1st December 2015

Hard Work

“Hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent doesn’t work hard enough” is a great quotation from Sir Alex Ferguson.

Very often we find ourselves in a debate about the relative importance of talent and hard work, between nature and nurture. In his book “Leading” Alex Ferguson talks about the importance of hard work. He talks about the work ethic he had inherited from his father, a Glasgow shipbuilder and strict disciplinarian. Hard work and discipline are close relations and I have never yet met a successful person who did not work hard, but it is too simplistic to say that hard work is the secret of success.

A few pages later Sir Alex talks about the importance of work rate and the way the very best players “would all have to be dragged off the training ground”. For professional athletes working hard is not just about giving it their all for the 90 minutes they are on the pitch. It is about working as hard as they can on becoming the best they can be which is a task that stretches way beyond the 90 minutes or so that they are on the pitch.

Some time ago I gave my clients a framed picture of Muhammad Ali which said “I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘Don’t quit! Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’”.

It is too easy to get the concept of hard work wrong as a business owner or business leader. Of course it is important to do the hard yards, to put the time and effort in, to set an example. Up to a point that hard work will pay off and we will get more and better results. Up to a point. Beyond that point we will probably get less; less free time, less peace of mind, less sleep and less satisfaction.

That is not to say that we should abandon the work ethic, far from it but perhaps what does need to happen is that the work ethic is refocused and redirected. Jack Welch said that before he was a manager what was important was what he could produce, the moment he became a manager what became important was what he could enable others to produce. That is a totally different ball game, taking different skills, different attitudes, different knowledge and a different behaviours. As our business scales up we need to scale up our thinking and our core skills.
Jim Rohn said, “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job”. If working harder on yourself was the direction and focus of the work ethic how much more progress might business owners and business leaders make?

In business we don’t play for 90 minutes a week. We are at it for a minimum of 40 hours a week and often an awful lot more. What if we were able to work harder in training so that the game itself was easier, more successful, more productive and less stressful? What difference would that make? What difference could that make?

Don’t get confused. The word training has many uses in the English language and I am not suggesting that we all rush out and book ourselves on a raft of training courses. In the field of executive education and adult behavioural change training courses simply do not work well enough, however if we all had a regime, discipline and plan of rigorous and effective self development, which would include reading, coaching and mentoring then more of us could expect to live the rest of our lives as champions.