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Commit or Quit!

From a father who is also in business

Shortly after joining the workforce as a fresh university graduate, I struggled with accepting managers who I thought didn’t ‘earn’ their positions. I wondered back then why they were in leadership positions when there were more talented and gifted people in the organization. Fast-forward some twenty-odd years later, a father of three is wondering how best to instil certain values in his children to help them meet the challenges the future will inevitably present them with. Being the same person in both cases, I found myself repeating to my kids that being smart or talented is a gift that they didn’t do anything to earn. What you do with this gift through effort, however, is a choice. And it is only those conscious choices we make in life that matter. Interestingly, when the thought was vocalized it caused me to reflect on my fallacy as a young financer. It is not talent that determines who ‘earns’ positions, or at least not solely, it is mostly consistent effort and hard work. By Ramy Youssef

Key predictor of success

After more than twenty-three years of work, I have seen numerous examples of talented people who don’t ‘make it’, or even fail, and others who were less talented in comparison progressing through the ranks. Numerous publications address this phenomenon, but in my view, none as sharply as Angela Duckworth’s bestseller “Grit – the power of passion and perseverance”. There seems to be growing consensus based on research that grit, perseverance, or synonymous words of your choice is the key predictor of success. That seems logical and aligns well with the ten-thousand-hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell coined in his book “Outliers – the story of success” (the key to success in any field is practice for ten-thousand hours, which can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years); as it is rather inconceivable that a person would spend ten thousand hours doing something without passion and perseverance.The idea becomes clearer when you think of the number of hours professional athletes and musicians train every week.

Obstacles to grit

Now if it all seems so simple and logical: love something and work hard, why is success the exception rather than the rule? Why is it usually easier to quit and so difficult to commit? A career in finance hardly qualifies me to answer this psychological question. However, certain observations drawn from the laws of physics are worth noting. When you consider why a 5 gm nail can break through wood with slight force when a 10 kg steel block cannot, no matter how much force goes behind it, parallels could be drawn with the question of commitment. The word ‘focus’ is key, it applies to a career breakthrough just like it applies to the nail and wood.A lot of times we ‘spread ourselves too thin’, trying to achieve numerous things on many fronts. That is not the issue; the issue is how this blurs our visions and distracts us from our top goals. In a broader sense as Michael Porter put it ‘the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do’. Now if this applies to strategy, shouldn’t it apply to the way we approach our lives? One of the key underdeveloped skills I have seen throughout the years is the ability to say ‘no’. It is not as simple as it sounds, for it requires knowing when and how to say it. Combining a sharp focus on top priorities, saying no to distractions, and constantly visualizing the end state should make commitment easier...never easy, but easier.

Working on the stuff we hate

We tend to love what we’re good at and shy away from what we need to develop. Whether it is driven by the sweet taste of success, a fear of failure, or a combination of both; the result is the same: leaving this attitude unchanged limits the areas where we excel. In the context of career progression, consider the qualities most important to promote a person to leadership positions. What would be the most significant factor in your choice? I believe it is judgment, the ability to make ‘mostly-correct’ decisions when faced with ambiguity.Whether you agree with this or not, judgement is built and honed by knowing something about most things rather than knowing everything about one thing. This will only be developed through working on the stuff you hate.Needless to say, working on the stuff you hate must be within your top priorities so as not to contradict your work on ‘focus’.

When quitting makes sense

My youngest is a very energetic, lively (yes, I mean loud), nine year old boy. In our pre-bedtime routine (parents would know what I mean and how far this can extend) I usually end up saying “you have to know when to stop”. The same applies in business:

“you have to know when to quit”

I think the issue is that on a subconscious level we equate quitting with failing. This is somewhat true, however, quitting items far down our list of priorities to make time for our top ones is needed and should be an ongoing routine. Just like businesses make decisions to quit losing lines of business, you decide to forego the necktie to make it in time for the meeting, or not to reply to that last email to make it in time for dinner with your family. In summary: Develop grit, focus, work on the stuff you hate, and know when to quit.

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