Shannon Polson, author of “The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience and Leadership in the Most Male Dominated Organization in the World” and the founder of The Grit Institute, gave the final keynote today at ICS West.

Presented by the SIA Women in Security Forum, titled, “Leading From Any Seat: Stories from the Cockpit & Lessons from the Grit Project,” featured Polson discussing courage, resilience and leadership, using examples from her personal life as one of the first women to fly the Apache helicopter in the U.S. Army and ideas outlined in her book.

Polson began her keynote with an assurance that grit — the concept popularized by psychologist Angela Duckworth in 2016 — is innate, but can be learned.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the social unrest happening in the world, Polson said that grit is now more important than ever.

“All of us need grit, but perhaps never before like we do now,” she said.

Throughout her presentation, Polson weaved tales from her military past with concepts from her book. To outline her first point, she mentioned feeling nervous and full of doubt one cold winter morning standing on the tarmac at Fort Rucker in Alabama. Instead of turning away from fear, Polson leaned in and “owned her story.” She pointed out how Apache helicopters take off: like most aircrafts, the pilots face them toward the wind, and the resistance helps them rise.

“Owning your own story as a leader is the foundation of grit,” she said. According to Polson, grit is a triangle, with equal focus on looking to the future and having faith in the outcomes of a challenge; being engaged with the present and taking ownership of what you can control; and acknowledging the past by owning your story and purpose.

All of this, she said, is centered in grounded optimism, a mindset that combines hope in a positive outcome with the reality at hand.  She used an example of a study that showed that Navy SEALs who believed that stress enhances their performance graduated at a higher rate and were better team players. In short, a growth mindset entails a better outcome.

“Going in with that mindset matters,” she said. “You train for hard things by doing hard things.”

According to Polson, it’s OK to tune out noise that prevents you from focusing at the task at hand.  “The world throws a lot at us, especially now,” she said. The last part of the grit factor is courage of ownership, or the realization that job rank does not mean you can’t be a leader.

“You’re a leader when you decide to lead,” she said.

Finally, in terms of leadership and organization, grit means valuing every voice from bottom to top. “When you’re empowering everybody in your organization, that means you honor that every single voice matters and makes the whole stronger,” she said.

The session can be viewed on the ISC West virtual event engagement hub, and begins the final day of ISC West. From Oct. 5-7, ISC West will offer more than 25 SIA Education@ISC sessions, nine virtual vendor solutions sessions, networking events, discussion group chats and demonstrations from exhibitors in the Exhibitor Tech Center. The conference concludes today with the Mission 500 Virtual 5k/2k Awards Ceremony at 5 p.m.

To attend ISC West sessions or to see recorded sessions you may have missed, visit

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