Secret to A Successful Career: Hard Work
If you’re relatively new to your career, you’re probably asking yourself “what can I do to be successful?”
Well I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of amazing people over the years and there’s one trait that always comes through among the highly successful:
Of all the things you can do to be a success, the one which always wins out is “working hard.” Successful people come into work a little earlier, stay a little later, and know how to put in the extra effort to do a fantastic job.
In fact, I’d agree with the statement above: “Hard Work Beats Talent.” There are lots of highly educated people in the business world who aren’t willing or able to push themselves hard enough to become a huge success. This is not to say you should sacrifice your family life, but when you can add more “oomph” you should.
Let me list six simple things that help in your quest to be a success.
# 1. Get up early.
This one seems funny but it’s true. Hard workers get up early. They take time to themselves when it’s quiet, they exercise before work, and they get organized before the flood of activity starts. Try getting up early and you’ll be amazed what happens. Not only are you more focused and productive, but you also find it easier to go to sleep early.
Early in my career I used to get up at a normal time, I’d have a cup of coffee and arrive at work around 8 or 8:30. Little did I know that all the high-performers had been there for an hour and by the time I rolled in I was already catching up.
Getting up early is also good mental exercise. It gives you mental toughness and discipline. Plus getting up early gives you the time and focus to stay organized during the day.
(Most senior executives and successful entrepreneurs are early risers.)
# 2. Focus on what matters. Each day.
The biggest problem we have today at work is distraction. Twitter, Facebook, text messages, phone calls, meetings, emails… they’re all distracting. And more and more of our life is filled with these noise-making activities.
Successful people take time to focus. What is the #1 “deliverable”you’re really responsible for getting done? Well focus on that.
As the day becomes busy I find myself continuously trying to “refocus” on what’s important. Yes there are a lot of things to get done: emails, conference calls, meetings – but many of them are not always necessary to help you get your work done. Research has shown that 41% of the things “busy people do” are not important, so we have to avoid or delegate things that may distract us from what we need to get done.
Ever year of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)? Instead you should practice a little JOMO – Joy of Missing Out.
Some time I’ll walk across the street and get a cup of strong coffee – when I get back I”m 100% focused again. The more focused you are the clearer you become about what you’re accountable for – and all of us are accountable for something.
#3. Pay attention to detail.
This one is really important. Pay attention to detail. When you have a project to complete, a proposal to write, or presentation to produce, give it your best. It’s often easy to “gloss over the numbers” in a rush. Don’t do it. Do everything in your power to make sure your work is accurate, complete … and has detail behind it.
People who do their homework carefully and don’t make mistakes are needed in every profession, and you will stand out as an exceptional performer.
I remember a project early in my career where I made a small error in the pricing for a large client proposal and my boss caught it. I will never forget the feedback he gave me, and in my annual performance appraisal he mentioned one thing: “attention to detail.” I never forgot it.
#4. Do more listening, less talking.
One of the mistakes I’ve made over the years is not listening enough, and as I moved into leadership roles I realized that listening was more important than ever.
Not listening is an easy mistake to make – your mind is racing, you know what you want to say or do, and you’re half-listening to the person or people around you. And when I was younger I was convinced that “doing my job” was the most important thing I could focus on.
It turns out that one of the best ways to “work hard” is to build great relationships with the people around you. Much research shows that personal relationships build trust, and from trust you develop the ability to work more efficiently and speedily. So by slowing down and listening you build the type of relationships vital to getting things done.
(Early in my career I worked for a manager at IBM who was a great listener – I remember him sitting quietly behind his desk and listening to me chat about all I was doing. Sometimes he didn’t say a word, sometimes he just asked me a few questions. I know now that he was really just coaching me in his own quiet way.. and when I needed help he was there.)
#5. Develop yourself. Learn to use the tools around you.
High performers are great learners. When you hear about something in your industry you need to understand, dig in. Find articles and read about it. Talk with someone who might be in that space, look for Ted talks or YouTube videos, check out SlideShare or Twitter, buy the book on Kindle. Make “continuous learning” part of your career.
I got to many meetings as an analyst where someone mentions a book, model, company, or technology I’ve never heard of. I immediately write it down and make a note to look it up later. Over the years I’ve learned a tremendous amount about HR, technology, leadership, and business simply by following up on all the things I hear about.
Today you can easily absorb a lot of information if you try. When you’re standing in line at Starbucks you can browse Twitter or the Wall Street Journal on your phone and educate yourself easily. I also get a lot of magazines, which I browse through on evenings and weekends.
Don’t forget industry events. Take some time each year to go to trade shows, external conferences, or training events. Every time I get out of the office to meet a client or attend a conference I’m glad I did.
And don’t be afraid to learn tools. I still learn things about Excel and PowerPoint, I hack around on the PC to stay productive, and I always check out new web tools and apps. I learn a lot about trends in technology and they often help me dramatically improve my own productivity.
If you’re intimidated by technology, take the time to learn more about it. When we started Bersin & Associates I bought a book on HTML and sat down to help fix our website. It only took a few days but forever after I could better understand how to run our web operation.
(There is a well known “leadership competency” which companies often use to identify potential leaders – and it’s “learning agility.” People who “learn fast” make great leaders.)
#6. Practice mental toughness.
This one may be the most important of all. Know what it feels like to push yourself at the gym? A professional career or job demands the same kind of toughness.
Sometimes things are overwhelming: people issues or business decisions seem unsolvable, customers are upset, and maybe things are broken or your project is behind.
Well you just have to push ahead. Mental toughness means telling yourself that “I’ll figure this out.”
I’ve worked with hundreds of people over the years and never met anyone who couldn’t do amazing things if they just pushed themself.
This means you should get comfortable with mistakes. You’re going to blow it at times. You may lose the deal, give a poor speech, or handle a situation poorly. Pick yourself up and push ahead. That’s life: everyone has been through such failures.
Final thought. Have fun. Then hard work is easy!
Final thought. Do work you enjoy. Find a company or team of people you like. Don’t be afraid to take a job you love, even if it isn’t the highest paying or most glamorous in your industry. If you like what you do, working hard comes naturally – and success will always follow.