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Why “You Can Be Successful” Does Not Mean You Will Be Successful and How to Improve the Odds

 

Can Do and Will Do
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When I was offered a leadership role to run the Building and Employee Services Department, I rejected it without thinking.

The employee services part was a cinch. I was involved in that function for more than twenty years. Imagining the demands of building maintenance overwhelmed me. “At least you must have a working knowledge of civil engineering,” I justified for my foolhardy decision.

In my course of work, the only contacts I had with the building services team were to clean up before and after my events. And only if they were held on site.

I was doing the annual events; leading ad hoc committees delivering the mega event for twenty years. It was a full package deal, from working with manufacturing for the approved date, to site selection, catering, engaging celebrities, publicity and the executive speech.

The last task was the most challenging. I had to do the most rework. It was also the most gratifying for two reasons. First, I got to play a role in “rallying the troops.” At the event, my masterpiece was being appreciated by the most important person in the room.

To make up the productive year, I managed seven cafeterias, delivering a million meals a year, ran a twenty-bus/van transportation service that covered more than 300 kilometres daily, coordinated multi-sport teams and tournaments, published a monthly newsletter and occasionally, champion the company at an industry exhibition. Technically, zero technical.

Can Do and Will Do
Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“We are not concerned with your (lack of) technical knowledge, we want your leadership.” This is the essence of what my future boss and mentor said in our second meeting.

That meeting led to a successful decade of leadership with the building and employee services team, not only meeting, and exceeding the CSIs (Critical Success Indicators) but also closing our deliverables with the least service interruptions.

The latter because we developed a robust and tested emergency preparedness plan, the prodigy of regular risk assessment exercises.

The seamless service merger of two country sites whose site VPs (Vice Presidents) did not see eye to eye at most times, was the first return of investment for my new boss. It was a tough-sell all the way. The handshake was forged by demonstrating the eye-catching positive impact to the individual site’s bottom-line through the merger.

The other selling point was the economy of scale. We could do more for their employees with less. Becoming a bigger entity would boost their pride of association. We were proposing that 1+1=3.

Within two years, I was chairing the Asia services council for a couple of years and a champion for Asia in global events.

From there, I even had the opportunity to help the company activate its investment in China, setting up the start-up admin office and installing employee services, including people logistics. Considering the scale of things, my contribution was a drop in the ocean. It was still a drop.

 Other than the feel-good motive of savoring my accomplishments, my point to all these is that, contrary to what I thought when offered the position, the can-do domain of hard skills and knowledge is not a deal breaker.

While I agree that it takes time, interest and effort to garner degrees and accreditation, and that they are important to opening doors, it is the will-do constructs that clear your path to success.

As I consider skills and knowledge the hard, tangible domain, I deem the will-do constructs which reflect the quality of mind and character, your disposition, the soft domain.

Like honing your skills and broadening your knowledge, developing the right disposition requires discipline and effort. It takes focus, practice and persistence to try and get it right. The trouble for your troubles is that, unlike building your skills and knowledge, the feedback may not be as prompt and predictable.

With the soft domain, feedback, when you get it, might be an avalanche of emotion that smothers you with rage or a tectonic shift of sentiment against you. The soft part is really the hard part.

For effectiveness and efficiency, we will discuss the will-do domain in the context of mindset, motivation and maintenance. “Mi-mo-ma”, if you like, as a recall mechanism.

Your mindset determines the path you choose. It is the fundamental power you have that changes everything. The first predictor of your fate is the Churchill test; do you see problems in every opportunity or opportunities in every problem?

The former is a cortisol laced position. Stress and anxiety will drain you, leaving you with fatigue, and in poor health which drag your performance down to hell. Carrying that state of mind blurs your vision to opportunities badly.

A settled, alert mind availing for opportunities will meet what it seeks. We share this common experience: when we are bent on buying a Honda Civic, we see the model everywhere. On the streets, at magazine stands and pop-up ads everywhere. Even everyone seems to be talking about it.

The S&M gods did not send the visions to you. (Mind you, S&M for Sales and Marketing). According to scientific researchers, all that you see have been there all along. The difference now is that you are taking notice, paying attention. You have primed the goal seeking mechanism in your brain to look for and at the Honda.

Experts in human behavior posit that this positive state of mind makes you luckier. You are more likely to spot random opportunities where you are.

The positive mindset also draws you to anticipate rewards. In that state the good juice dopamine is released and that activates you to take on challenges and do good work.

On the other side of the coin, the avoidance mindset expects pain and punishment. Push backs and procrastination become the culture.

If you are trapped in negative thinking, and you want to get out, a recommended way is to weaken that neural pathway by not taking that route. A principle with neuroplasticity is that you lose what you do not use. Make a conscious effort to shed that way of thinking.

Neuroplasticity also says that you can train your brain to train you to act differently. You have to repeatedly replace the thinking you don’t want with constructive thoughts that build a better future.

You can create neural pathways to the positive parts of your brain through repetition of a good thing. You can start by catching a negative self-talk and swap it with a better one. Parrot it until you believe it.

It is best to script the talk to ensure consistency of thoughts. This is positive self-affirmation in practice. Your brain remembers and acts on what you say you believe regularly and consistently.

An ass saving caveat here. Not all negative thoughts such as those related to fear, doubt and uncertainty are not useful. Sometimes, a bit of doubt can save your life. You have to assess the situation.

When I was doing research for an article on math excellence, I came across a research that says self-efficacy plays an important role in developing competency in the subject.

The long explanation; the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation.

The short explanation; your belief in your ability to succeed. Like something that Ford is said to have said, whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you are right.

It speaks about your confidence in your ability to successfully do something. In math, if you start out with, “I’m allergic to algebra,” etched into your being, you are set for failure. Researchers found that those who did well in maths believed in their ability first.

Self-efficacy with a growth mindset. Believing in your competency and the principle that talent can be developed through hard work and other initiatives, is a massive boost to your chances to success in work and in life. It’s Viagra for the affects.

What if you are the allergic to algebra type? Can you build self-efficacy? Yes, according to Albert Bandura, of Stanford, the father of this principle. There are four ways you can build self-efficacy.

-Mastery experiences or success builds success. By building through small wins. Break your overwhelming tasks into smaller winnable chunks. The small wins will convince you have what it takes to succeed. They will teach you that overall success requires sustained effort.

-Social modelling is observing people of similar to yourself succeed through sustained effort. Embrace the successes of people similar to yourself, focus on their behaviors and thought processes to build your own self-efficacy.

-Social persuasion is getting the encouragement that you have the skills and abilities to succeed. It suggests that you hang around with supportive people, especially those with a vested interest in your progress.

-Sustain the good mood. Positive mood enhances a person’s perceived self-efficacy. Despondent mood diminishes it. According to Bandura, mood and well-being affects a person’s judgement of his or her self-efficacy.

Once you have engaged and adjusted the mindset, shifting your focus to the right direction, the energy pump must be switched on, to get you over the inertia and start moving with gusto.

The summary of effort inspiring and energizing you to take the necessary actions towards achieving your goals is the favourite in the leader’s toolbox, motivation. Everyone is doing it but few are getting the kicks.

To grasp the ins and outs of motivation, you have to understand the power of it’s two forces, the extrinsic and intrinsic values.

 Extrinsic motivation refers to lures that can be assigned material values. These include financial considerations such as pay and bonuses, assets such as houses and cars, incentives such as holidays and awards and other stuff.

Can Do and Will Do
Mariah Hewines on Unsplash

Unfortunately, your love story with fluff and stuff is not an enduring one. Social economists found that after a certain quantum, the impact of money on one’s satisfaction follows the graph of diminishing returns. Try as I may, I have never had the chance to experience this; experts in behavioral research insist that lottery winners are enchanted with their new found wealth for only two years. Thereabout.

Intrinsic motivation touches your inner stability and core values. A wide range of triggers are present to self-guard your self-integrity which includes self-determination.

You are deeply in love with your sense of self-worth. In its simplest form, you see yourself as a good person, capable of doing good work and is accepted by society. When obsessed with the idea that you are worthier than all, you are signing in at the door of narcissism.

More than money, you guard your right to control, being the authority, and the freedom to choose, autonomy. You want to have a say in the decisions that affect you and you want the free pass to make choices.

China and USA are in conflict largely because of this and other pseudo-needs. More than two billion people, considering the peripheral impact, are paying for this tussle. The only control they have in this to choose who they believe.

You crave for progress and development, and some forms of social connection.

Can Do and Will Do
Christian Bowen on Unsplash

The need to engage can be traced to when you were still a baby. You learned that you need the attention and care from others to survive. The need to be accepted is in the checklist for self-integrity. According to experts, the anticipation of working with a team lights up your brain’s reward center.

Teresa Amabile, a Professor at Harvard examined 12,000 diary entries and found that 76% reported their best days involved making progress toward a goal.

The big idea is to have a manageable goal which allows you to make some progress along the timeline. Having a goal that causes a pulsating lump on your forehead will do no good to your sense of self-worth.

If you are working in an organization, your leaders play a large role in motivating you extrinsically. Many companies have scientific tools to do that, often, justifying your remuneration through surveys that make sense to only their bottom-line.

Most people wait on their leaders to create the environment that will generate ideals for their intrinsic needs. If you are getting sulkier as you wait, it is a sign that you have to launch the unseen coup d’état. You have to seize power.

You can satisfy your need for authority and autonomy by championing causes and projects.

When every department had to submit its proactive plans for La-Nina, I jumped in to collate the information into a manual. I was told it was the first one in the global company. I led the weekly update.

I made myself the heir to the Chair of the Asia services council by taking over the whiteboard, sharing the vision and the promise of travels.

I hear gripes about wishy washy bosses. I love wishy washy bosses and ambiguous projects. You get to set the performance standards which, of course, are achievable.

You don’t have wait for your boss to make inclusive statements. You are more than capable to do that. You don’t need your boss to tell a joke to make you laugh. You can tell a joke to make him and you laugh.

Great! You are on the right track…but are you going to be fit for the full journey? Working at services and maintenance strengthened my appreciation for being proactive. The combination of risk assessment and predictive maintenance kept the disruption and the cost low. Like the equipment and services, you are no good if not functional.

Of course, it is best to consult a qualified professional regarding your physical maintenance. However, there are some well researched common knowledge about the fundamental requirements your body needs to deliver successful performance.

Sleep has an important role in cognitive performance. Researchers found that young adults with sleep deprivation perform poorer than people twice their age. While you are sleeping, information gathered is encoded into working and long-term memory. Lack of sleep affects our mindfulness and affects our ability to focus, learn and remember.

Mindfulness gets you connected to the present environment and helps you focus on what matters instead of slipping into fleeting thoughts and rumination. Multi-tasking has been found to cause distraction, less productivity and poorer performance. We cannot effectively attend to more than one cognitive task at a time. Widely researched, it is found that mindfulness can be improved through the practice of meditation.

Can Do and Will Do
Brooke Lark on Unsplash

The right level of glucose is found to boost brain functions. Your brain needs 120 grams of glucose which is 60% of your daily glucose needs. In addition to glucose, your brain needs antioxidants, iron and fish oil.

Moderate exercises are found to boost your brain function. Physical activities oxygenate blood circulating through your brain.

We have covered a lot but we have not covered enough. The goal of this article is to create the awareness that skills and knowledge will not guarantee your success. You have to believe in your capabilities and invest sustained effort in building a positive disposition to boost your performance.

I look forward to this effort getting you started towards success. It may be like a drop in the ocean in the scale of your task. It is still a drop.

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