I have a love-love-hate relationship with the concept of work ethic. First, the obvious – without it, success is impossible. Let me say that again – success, mastery, breakthroughs – they all require a great, dedicated, dead-serious work ethic. (That’s the love-love part of the relationship).
Here’s the hate part. Work ethic alone does not guarantee success. Many people work very hard only to see their plant closed, their company go bankrupt… So – work ethic does not guarantee genuine success. But a poor work ethic practically comes close to guaranteeing failure.
Anyway, here are a few lines from Daniel Pink’s Drive to reinforce the “have a good work ethic” rule.
“Grit” – “perseverance and passion and long-term goals.” (the #1 predictor of success at West Point). In every field, grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment.
“Effort means you care about something, and you are willing to work for it.” (Carol Dweck).
“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” (Julius Erving).
“Late afternoon. That’s when your feet have swelled and are at their largest size. Buying shoes in the late-afternoon means they’ll fit just fine in the morning when your feet are at their smallest. But more importantly, it means they’ll fit after a full day of being on your feet when you need them to be most comfortable. Shopping tip: Your feet look like they’re the same size, but chances are one is slightly larger than the other. So when you try on shoes, buy the size that fits the larger foot the best. Did you know? Feet can increase in size as you get older. They’re not growing, but tendons and ligaments often get stretched over time. If you haven’t bought shoes in a while, have your feet measured first.”
In fact, have them measured first, period.
* * *
Mark Di Vincenzo was a journalist for 24 years before launching Business Writers Group, a company that completes writing assignments of various kinds for its corporate clients.
In working with highly successful executives over the years, Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Coaching Services Madeleine Homan Blanchard has had an opportunity to witness some of the positive and negative behaviors that enhance or limit leadership effectiveness. She has also seen that, surprisingly, the same behaviors that advance an executive’s early career are the same behaviors that can later limit performance if they are left unchecked.
For example, the optimism that allows a leader to take risks and operate through obstacles can later turn into a willful disregard for reality when taken to an extreme. In the same manner, positive personality traits of energy, charm, charisma, and intelligence can lead to a lack of self-awareness if a leader doesn’t know how to modulate his or her behavior and exhibit self-restraint and self-control. Finally, a leader’s self-confidence and belief in his or her own talents can quickly become a liability if ego issues turn skills and abilities into a competition with colleagues and direct reports.
Homan Blanchard explains that the challenge for leaders is to recognize that their strengths are actually double-edged swords that need to be managed.
Optimism versus Reality
When a leader’s optimism crosses the line into a willful disregard for reality, the result is a mediocre company that limps along, usually surviving on the strength of a great product, and succeeding in spite of itself.
In business, this type of willful disregard for reality is akin to insisting on making a better buggy whip after the invention of the automobile. There is a tendency among successful people to keep going down the same path that has worked for them in the past even though the market is screaming for them to change course and go down another. When that happens, people lose a lot of energy, they don’t trust their senior leadership, and they just kind of muddle along.
Homan Blanchard likes to compare this type of thinking to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” As she explains, “There is a reason why that saying is funny. It’s because we’ve all done it and we’ve all watched other people do it.”
There are so many stories about oblivious bosses that it is almost a cliché. A lack of self-awareness is essentially ignoring how one is being perceived. As a leader, it is critical to routinely evaluate how your behavior is impacting others.
To help with this reflective activity, Homan Blanchard recommends that leaders consider installing a little “self-observation person” on their left shoulder. Then, whenever a leader recognizes that something they are about to say feels as if it is coming up from a deep need inside of themselves, stop for a moment, take a breath and ask, “Am I saying this because of my need to be heard, or am I saying this because it absolutely needs to be said and nobody else will say it?”
The Need to Be Better than Everyone Else
The final behavior for leaders to keep an eye on is an unchecked degree of competitiveness, or the need to prove oneself smarter than everyone else. For many leaders, being the smartest person in the room is what has gotten them where they are. But when they reach senior leadership levels, they actually have to let other people be smart—or even smarter, according to Homan Blanchard.
“For senior leaders, this often requires an enormous shift that includes not being so attached to being the best, brightest, and greatest. Your job now is to cultivate the best and the brightest traits of all the other people in the room. This is a leap that many leaders fail to make.
“This means that when you have a team of competent, proven performers, don’t insist on adding “extra value” as a leader. Even if the team is doing something in a way that you might not agree with, you still need to shut up and let them be. Don’t insist on having people do it your way. I work hard at helping my clients avoid that—especially the overworked ones who claim that that there is no one to delegate to.”
* * *
To read the complete article, check out other resources, and/or receive a free subscription to the newsletter, please visit http://www.kenblanchard.com/.