Key to Success is Work Ethic & Character That is Process (Not Result) Based

Every day I get a special email from Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer & Former Nike Executive George Raveling and Former NFL GM Michael Lombardi. “The Daily Coach” is a fantastic look at leadership and is a great way to learn and grow as a leader and a person. While I haven’t had the opportunity to interview Coach Raveling, I have interviewed Lombardi several times on my radio show and always leave learning something.

That gets me to this morning’s email and its point about failure.

Around 2011, I visited the Facebook HQ (then partly on the Stanford campus) to appear on the Facebook Business video show. We were talking about the work we were doing at Applebee’s to forge the restaurant chains’ new direction in digital and social media. Throughout the facility tour, I was bombarded by the now commonplace slogan of “fail fast.” While we’ve all become aware of the concept of “fail fast” and what it means, the larger issue of failure as a leader and professional is still something worth further inquiry.

This morning’s email struck a chord with me because Raveling and Lombardi use author David Brooks' landmark work in his book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. The book, which delves into finding peace and happiness within oneself, discusses failure and the two forms. Below, an excerpt from the book and today’s They Daily Coach, explains how the author views the two types of failure:

1) You’re good, but people can’t grasp it. “Moby Dick,” for example, sold just 2,300 copies in its first 18 months.

2) You’re not as good as you once thought you were. And others see it.

Wait? What? Doesn’t number two sound a little like self-loathing or perhaps negative thinking?

In actuality, it does not. Instead, what Brooks asserts here is it’s easy to see all sorts of failures when you hit a rocky road, but not so much when things are going well.

“We all want to imagine that our failures are of the first kind, but one suspects that something like 95 percent of failures is of the second kind,” Brooks says in the book. “One of the character tests on the road to mastery involves recognizing that fact.”

It’s easy to recognize the fact that you fail and then move to recover from the disappointment. But when things are going well, we often exhale and enjoy the moment and perhaps let off the gas a bit. While it’s acceptable to enjoy the moment and success, what many (including myself at times) do is let the process change. Our work ethic and character change, and our process changes. To continue to be successful — even with failure sometimes at hand — the key, as Raveling and Lombardi suggest, is never to change our process. When our process carries on unabated, we don’t fall victim to our own successes or failure — we continue to work and lead without slacking off.

The road to success and becoming the best person and leader we can be lies in the continuous improvement journey. That includes never believing your own hype nor resting on previous success.

As The Daily Coach says today: “…remember that true mastery lies in realizing we’re not quite as good as we think we are.”