Steve Elliott Talks “Grit to Win” and “Thriving in Exile”

Steve Elliott ’94 (Robertson School of Government) is all about playing “connect the dots.”

Elliott, founder and president of Grassroots Action, Inc., a direct-marketing company specializing in citizen-action services, was the featured speaker on Tuesday, April 21, at Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series (ELS) luncheon.

Elliott described how he was on the verge of a great political disappointment. But through his setback in his profession, he knew that the healing for his season would come from a different area of his life.

He recalled a year before, when the pastor of his 50-member church congregation passed away. His church family was at a loss, until his mother stood and declared that the congregants needed to “bloom where they were planted.”

Elliott was reminded of the ever-popular Jeremiah 29:11 verse, encouraging readers that God “knows the plans He has for [them], plans to prosper and not to harm.” But instead of succumbing to the shallow depth of the verse as many are tempted – plastering it on a t-shirt or on their car bumper – Elliott strove to find the deeper context.

The letter from prophet Jeremiah, Elliott explained, was written to the Jews who were facing 70 years in exile. The letter tells its recipients to prosper, to “build, plant, bless and pray.” In short: “bloom where they are planted.”

Elliott applied this to his political career, publicly declaring his intentions to continue to build and fight in the midst of his unexpected defeat; the inspiration for his books, Thriving in Exile and Thriving Through the Night. The third book of the series, Grit to Win, will release May, 2015.

However, “grit” is more than a four-letter word in a new book title. For Elliott, it’s a small word with a loaded meaning in which he applies to all of the “dots” of his eclectic life. The most applicable, he’s found, has been in coaching the girls’ varsity volleyball team at Stonebridge School in Chesapeake, Virginia.

The position fell into his care, rather involuntarily, but he takes the calling seriously, encouraging the young women to play with grit and the “four C’s” of resiliency: character, confidence, connection and competence.

But then he took it a step further, creating the “four C’s” for his team, adding “confidence, cohesion and competition” to the mix.

“As a coach, you’re always looking for a spark to motivate,” said Elliott. “And the team can tell you, I acted like I was coming down from Mount Sinai with these ‘four C’s.'”

Or, what Elliott aptly refers to as the “law of grit.” Traits of the Philippians 1 definition of perseverance: “running to win the race.” A race, as it seems, outside of our own worth.

“We live in a culture with an amazing temptation of idolatry. We’ve never been more inundated with our own image – in fact there are more than 1.1 billion ‘selfies’ taken in a day,” said Elliott. “How can we live in a context that’s bigger than ourselves?”

The key, according to Elliott, is learning that in life and in business, run the race to win.

“We don’t win just to survive and not just to muddle through,” said Elliott. “We’ve become afraid of winning in our public profession,” said Elliott. “It’s not just about how you play the game, that’s just the balm we want to use.”

He explained that the idea is counter-cultural in an era where adolescents are encouraged that “everyone is a winner,” and that it’s not about “whether or not you win, but how you play the game.”

And so, with his continued leadership of his online company, authorship and coaching of his sports teams, the “dots” of his life intersect where exile meets prosperity, and prosperity encourages others along the way.

“I was once thrust into a season of political exile – but I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines,” said Elliott. “The goal isn’t to be in exile: It’s about working until we win.”

Each month, Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series hosts hundreds of business men and women from the Hampton Roads business community as they learn from prominent leaders.

The final luncheon of the 2014-15 season on May 20, will feature Mike Schieffer, president of WinShape Foundation and former executive with Starbucks.