I have always been convinced that hard work wins. I believe that each of us falls short of perfection, even in our areas of specialty, but generally speaking, he who works the hardest tends to come out ahead. It’s the will, not the skill.
Having had accountabilities for large employee bases throughout my career, I’ve had countless discussions with company leaders about talent. Without exception, effort and energy (aka ‘hard work’) is a critical point of differentiation between ‘champs’ and ‘chumps’. Even if there’s a gap in an employee’s current performance, having a reputation as a hard worker seems to magically fill that void.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE THAT ARE GIFTED?
Given the choice to be regarded as ‘gifted’ or a ‘hard worker’, my preference would be known as the latter. That may be because I’m not a natural, or gifted at much and have had to work hard for everything I’ve achieved. It may also be because that’s the example my father set for me. Whatever it is, I’ve always pushed to be regarded as a hard worker.
Stephen King once said “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Irish MMA fighter Conner McGregor offered “There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that’s that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.”
Angela Duckworth recently published “Grit. The Power of Passion and Perseverance” and reported on what it took to succeed in extremely demanding environments, such as West Point Military Academy’s “Beast”. With all of the gifted and talented individuals making it through multiple hurdles to be admitted to West Point, one-in-five were not graduating from West Point, and a high percentage of those were not making it through the initial Beast training. She concluded “the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. The not only had determination, they had direction.”
WHAT ABOUT INTELLIGENCE?
I knew a CEO that was (and still is) convinced that intellect was the number one predictor of success. This company implemented the use of the Wonderlic test, a short IQ test, as a screening tool for all hires. (The NFL uses this same assessment on its incoming players.)
I have always felt that intellect was important, but that it could not be directly correlated to an individual’s success. There is no guarantee, for example, that your high school valedictorian will be the single most successful classmate of yours. In fact, at times, it is quite the opposite. High intelligence can, in some circumstances, limit an individual’s opportunities for success.
On intellect, Charles Darwin once said “For I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only zeal and hard work; and I still think that is an eminently important difference.”
LEADERSHIP AND HARD WORK
As a leader, you can only expect your team to work as hard as you do. The pace you set is the pace by which your team will operate. It is also important to understand that your team will act on not just your real work effort, but also their perceptions of your work.
Perceptions can be formed by arrival and departure times or even the frequency of work from home. For example, your team may see you leave the office promptly at 5:30 daily, not recognizing that you work for 2+ hours on your laptop nightly. The ‘hard work’ credit you will receive as a leader will be equal to what is observed by the team.
Don’t play games with perceptions, though, as they will backfire. I once knew a manager who wrote emails and then programmed them to send at all hours of the night, while he was comfortably sleeping. The original impression was “Wow! This guy is committed!” but that quickly changed to “What a joke!” The ‘what a joke’ perception had far more lasting effect that the initial impression of the all-night-work-a-holic. In fact, the email game ultimately became his brand.
Robin S. Sharma shared “Hard work opens doors and shows the world that you are serious about being one of those rare – and special – human beings who use the fullness of their talents to do their very best.”
There are great opportunities to inspire your team to work hard. Take the least favorite assignment, on occasion. Bring-in dinner and work beside the team during a late-night project. Let your team see you sweat, smile, and ask how you can help them.
DON’T HOLD BACK. WORK HARD TODAY
In the holiday classic Christmas Vacation, we learn that Cousin Eddie has been unemployed for many years because “He’s holding out for management.” Whatever role we find ourselves in, the best way to earn the next opportunity is hard work today.
I once had a strong management trainee program that had a consistent record of moving these new college graduates into next-level positions within an average of 18 months. As we recruited these new hires, we often shared that average promotion timeline as part of our pitch. There were unfortunately a few occasions where these new hires didn’t perform to expectations in their ‘trainee role.’ Each of them ended up leaving the company, either by their choice or ours.
In exit interviews with many of them they reported that they had held back some of their effort, waiting to give full effort for their ‘next’ position. They failed to realize that the 18-month average promotion rate had been earned by those applying themselves to that role, working hard and ultimately succeeding. Your efforts in today’s tasks dictates where your tomorrow begins. The best way to ensure tomorrow’s successes is the work you perform today.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “If a man is called a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and Earth will pause to say, Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”
TEACHING CHILDREN TO WORK
Now I hesitate to venture here because I am not a perfect parent, but I am convinced that a child must learn to work. In today’s society, many children are handed everything, which will create challenges when they must be independent and support themselves.
My children played various sports growing up and we encouraged them to participate in whatever activities they chose, but did not push them into any particular sport. My children knew me as a supportive, sometimes loud, sideline parent. The only time that I expressed frustration to my children was when I could tell they weren’t giving the game everything that they had to offer. I didn’t care if they won or lost, just that they did their best. That was fully within their control, each and every practice, each and every game.
Since we’re on sports, Derek Jeter once said “There may be people that have more talent than you, there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you.”
I was raised learning the value of hard work. For most of my growing-up years my family had farm land, horses and cows. Although my father did most of the work, we had cores and learned to get our hands dirty, dig holes, wake up early and do work. To this day I build my own fences, finish my own basements and keep an immaculate yard and garden. There is something absolutely fulfilling about breaking a sweat, completing a project and seeing the fruits of your labors.
Thomas Jefferson once said “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Remember, when choosing how to approach your day – Hard Work Wins!