“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
I’ve been pondering this message for some time – writing about the importance of hard work. It seems so cliché these days to write about the obvious benefits of hard work – and even more cliché to start a leadership blog with such well-used quotes as those from Vince Lombardi. What’s more, I’ve worried about whether my message will offend those who might interpret this message as an affront to their work ethic.
But this message is important. It’s time to put the softer elements of leadership aside and speak to the heart of the matter – and quite simply it is this…most people don’t put forth the effort that is truly required to be successful in their life pursuits. Whether that’s at work, with family, with friendships, or in our hobbies, too many of us think that we can shortcut that process and still succeed.
Newsflash! Nothing in life comes easy. More importantly, nothing in life is worth having if it isn’t earned. “No pain, no gain” – isn’t that how the saying goes? Why then do so many people long for success (professional, financial, etc) but fail to put in the effort required for that achievement?
Several years ago, I read a book by one of my favorite authors – Malcolm Gladwell. The book, entitled Outliers – The Story of Success, provides insight Malcolm gathered after years of researching attributes behind the success of different individuals (and groups of individuals). Its original purpose was to determine the relevance and relationship between environment, ambition, motivation, determination, and personal drive.
What he found through this research was that while environment, ambition, and motivation were all influential in predicting a person’s ability to be successful, in the end the more relevant factors were determination and personal drive. Or put simply, how hard a person worked to achieve that success. His summation is that when a person or group of individuals (given the right opportunity) invested sufficient time to become an expert, they were overwhelmingly successful in that pursuit. Here are a few quotes from his book:
“Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”
“Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”
In other words, talent is important, but not nearly as much as effort.
Which got me to thinking about my own career. My success certainly hasn’t been from a blessing of some genetic benefit, born with the innate knowledge of leadership, business, management, finances, and the underpinning of what it takes to manage a company. Nor did I grow up in a household where business and finance lessons were taught daily. Nope, not at all. My mother was a psychologist by education and a parole officer by trade. My father lived overseas, and my stepfather managed a boat repair shop. No disrespect to my parents, but that wasn’t going to ensure success in my business career.
Neither was my education. LSU is a fine school – no question – but there are certainly more noted Ivy league schools that could have better prepared me. And stopping short of an MBA certainly didn’t train me on the finer art of business management.
So what was it? Simple – hard work. I can remember early days in my career working in public accounting, and in particular during the busy season. It was during those times that staff was required to work 55 hour weeks. Tough for a kid fresh out of college, but a foundation that served me well.
I also remember countless long nights at the office working to complete all the tasks assigned to me as perfectly as I could. Double checking my math. Reformatting my work. Making sure everything was done to specifications. It was tiring, but an investment I knew was required. In fact, I remember how management at that company used our weekly timesheet reporting to identify staff members putting in the extra work, and would send them monthly letters of appreciation and recognition.
And I remember the investments I made on my own to learn and develop the tools of my trade. As an accountant (and later a financial analyst), knowing how to use Excel was a must. To make sure I was as prepared as possible, I would often spend 3-4 hours on Saturday mornings reading books on how to use spreadsheets (there is a copy of one sitting on my bookstand now – Excel 5 for Windows). So instead of running, hiking, fishing, or doing many of the other things I loved doing, I realized an investment in time and hard work was required to be successful.
I offer all of that to state the obvious – being successful isn’t a 9 to 5 job. It just isn’t. In the staffing business I manage today, the most successful sales team members are those who rise early or stay late to get the job done. Same thing for recruiters. They don’t put forth the minimum, instead they give all they can for as long as they can, consciously calculating the sacrifice against the professional and financial goals they have set.
It’s that simple… there is no substitute for hard work.