From Grit to Great



Last Sunday, I had the privilege of listening to Jonathan Yabut at the District 75 (Philippines) Toastmasters Mid-Year Conference. He was invited to share about leadership.

As I sat on the table I share with my fellow Toastmasters from Baguio City, I pulled out a pen and paper from my portfolio and began writing even while he, the speaker, was being introduced.

Jonathan Yabut was the 2012 Mansmith Young Master Awardee and Filipino ambassador for the 2012 London Olympic Games for GlaxoSmithKline. Then he became the first winner of the hit reality TV show The Apprentice Asia! After winning the show, he rotated in various positions within the Tune Group of Companies – one of which as Chief of Staff of AirAsia. He is also serves as the Managing Director of his own marketing consultancy firm, The JY Ventures & Consultancy. For more than a decade, Jonathan served in the marketing departments of telecommunications, pharmaceutical, and aviation industries.

His leadership lessons which he calls ‘From Grit to Great’ are divided into four. Let me share them to you as I add my own commentaries.

First, you don’t need to say YES to every opportunity of success. Success also requires saying NO.

Interestingly, the wealthy investor Warren Buffett said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” While Jonathan did not quote Mr. Buffett on this particular line, he explained it well when he said, “For every NO, you can say YES.”

It’s true that you can only do so much so don’t spread yourself too thinly. I remember a similar message from Bo Sanchez. He said that there is a thin line between good and bad, but there is a wide gap of good and better. Thus, at times that you say NO to something good, you can say YES to something better.

Hence, we need to learn when to say NO and when to say YES.

Second, in order to stand out, a leader need to stand back.

Jonathan shared a painful yet defining experience when he was expecting to be promoted but he wasn’t. Based on how he relates his story, I got the understanding that he had consistently been raised to every rung of the corporate ladder (perhaps every year), but that year, he wasn’t given what he was expecting and probably what he deserved based on his performance. Because of this, he asked his boss why and that’s when he learned his lesson. His boss told him he hasn’t learnt a very important lesson in leadership yet. A sample case that he cited was when he had a well-crafted and brilliant presentation, he did not even recognized the other people in the team who helped. Another case was when his boss invited him to a lunch (or dinner) and was asked to invite the others in the team; he came but didn’t tug along the others.

Somehow, he had always wanted to shine and be recognized but he didn’t know how to share such shining moment and recognition. Sometimes, we really need to be told of our mistakes in a direct (yet caring) way because we may be blind of our own mistakes (most of the times).

He learned this the hard way. From his Apprentice experience, he cited one application of this lesson. There are some challenges when he decided to step back and let the other person become the project manager because he thought that the other person has something more to bring in to the table as the project manager and it would be more beneficial to the team than if he would take on the lead role.

Truly, a leader must need to learn to stand back in times when it is needed. And often times, this is needed.

Third, it’s not about working hard, but SMART.

In the show, you can guess that since this is a show in a corporate / board room set up, the contestants need to suit up. Part of the package is to look good and smart in their get-up. This requires a lot of things but one of them is this: they needed to iron their clothes. The challenge is that they only have one iron for everyone.

What Jonathan did was to bring with him a steam iron and everytime they have some technical “downtime” – he would iron his clothes in preparation for the next day/s. The next morning, while all the other contestants busied themselves rushing to iron their clothes, Jonathan would be enjoying his peace, sipping his coffee, and strategizing on how he can beat the other contestants.

Now, that’s just one sample of working smart. Some call it ‘diskarte’ but maybe not necessarily. Others in the corporate world may say working efficiently and effectively. Whatever way you call it, you got the idea.

Fourth, the secret to success is out there: it’s called GRIT.

I like how Jonathan puts it but I wasn’t able to capture his exact sentence. Here’s is what I can recall: GRIT is a combination of passion and perseverance sustained in the long haul.

Yes, we need passion in the things that we do but it doesn’t stop there. It has to be an intense passion that can stay burning amid challenges and distractions, problems and failures. It also has to be combined with perseverance to keep it on in the long haul.

This is GRIT and it makes a lot of sense to generate this grit.

Jonathan said these are his leadership lessons from The Apprentice Asia. I have guess, that these are the lessons he gained from his overall leadership experience even before, beyond, and outside of the show. His mentors including Asia’s legend Tony Fernandez would have contributed to these learnings.

These priceless lessons he shared have brought him to the level of leadership success he is in today. As young minds, we can learn a lot from his list of simple yet solid four-part lessons and as we apply them in our own lives, we may also be able to experience what he calls ‘GRIT to GREAT.’

(Chris Dao-anis/CPA, as an author and speaker, helps aspiring and young professionals become better communicators and leaders. Email him at or visit / Are you interested of joining Toastmasters? You can join Chris and his fellow members at the Pines City Toastmasters Club, meeting every 1st, 3rd, & 5th Saturday |6:30PM at McDonald’s Insular | Party Room, 2nd Floor.)