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Leadership Thought #452 – Ability, Humility, Effort and Attitude


I was talking to my son the other day about his schoolwork and some frustrations he was having.  He is a good kid and is in all honors classes.  I have noticed though, as the years go on, that school which was once relatively easy and fun for him has become much more of a chore.  While not commenting on the varying degrees of teacher quality we have encountered along the way (which is troubling), I believe he is going through something we all go through in life.  Rarely is our individual curve always upward sloping and everything comes easy for us.  Sure, some people are seemingly blessed in certain aspects of life, but for the most part we all hit periods of frustration, disappointment, and/or low motivation.  When you have a passion or care about something it is much easier to marshal the energy required to work through the rough patches.  When it is something you have to do rather than want to do, it isn’t always so easy.

During the conversation with my son, we discussed four things that help you get through these difficult periods: Ability, Humility, Effort and Attitude:

First, we are all born with natural abilities and strengths that make us who we are.  It is important to do the self assessment and reflection required to know what this for each of us.  More often than not, leveraging these strengths will get you through anything.  By contrast, spending too much time mired in your weaknesses is basically a waste of time.  Leaders who get too fixated on their weakness end up spinning their wheels more often than they have to.  It is okay not be especially gifted at something as long as you are aware of this and act accordingly.  For example, my son is not great with details but he can always see the big picture and where things are headed.  Instead of trying to work up through the details, he needs to step back and begin with the end in mind.  The steps will become more clear once is knows where the class or assignment is going.  He can then use his great people skills to partner with others who supplement his skills and/or ask for the right type of help from the teacher once he has this clarity.

This leads to my second point, the importance of humility. No one expects you to know it all.  In fact, we are usually put-off by people who come across this way.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, but instead strength.  The leaders I see who struggle the most in life are those who are reticent to ask for help and leverage the strengths of others.  They may have a good run for a period of time, but ultimately their ego becomes the biggest obstacle in their life.  The gaps usually show up first in their personal relationships because friends and family are less likely to tolerate this type of behavior than people who are beholden to you for a job.  Businesses tend to take off once the leader realizes they don’t have to be the center or source of all judgment and decision making.

Third, the amount of effort you put into something typically correlates with the outcomes you get.  Lazy people almost always get marginal or sub par results.  Unfortunately, you can be very gifted and lazy and this ultimately catches up with you with time.  When I hear a leader tell me they always work best under pressure (especially on important issues), I know right away that this is a person who only puts forth the effort when they have to (which is inadvisable).  Sure you may get lucky every once in awhile, but talent is always vulnerable to others who are better prepared and work harder at being better.  There are no long-term shortcuts to success.  More often than not, you just have to roll up your sleeves and do the sustained hard work to excel at something.

Finally, attitude is a critical component of success. To paraphrase, Henry Ford, “if you think you can or think you can’t, you are probably right.”  I rarely see people with a bad attitude excel at anything.  However, I have often been surprised by individuals who can will themselves through just about anything with the right attitude.  Resilience is a critical character trait that we all need to cultivate in life and the first step is believing you are actually capable of handing whatever comes your way.  Moreover, you must embrace rather than resist the challenges that await you in life.  That doesn’t mean you don’t get sad, angry or frustrated occasionally, but that you don’t get mired in this thinking to your long-term detriment.

I firmly believe that people who understand what they are naturally good at and use this to their advantage, minimize the negative consequences of their pride and ego and ask for help when needed, put forth the requisite effort to do a job properly, and approach all of this with a generally positive attitude have very few real obstacles in life.   I am confident that my son or anyone’s child for that matter can effectively deal with whatever barriers life puts in their path as longs as we as parents are guiding them in the right way.  And, as leaders we need to model the behavior we should want to see in ourselves and others. Understanding ability, humility, effort and attitude are a good place to start.

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