STUDER COLUMN: Success often comes down to the basics
I have often thought about the difference between people who are truly successful and those who are only medium-successful. And what I’ve noticed is that success usually isn’t about being a genius or having a huge money-making idea that changes everything. It’s usually just a matter of good habits practiced consistently over time—getting the basics right day after day, project after project, and relationship after relationship.
Just as average people are the culmination of all the average things they do, great people are the culmination of all the things they do well. Success isn’t about knocking it out of the park in a blaze of glory. It’s about getting up every day and hitting singles or (on a good day) doubles. Occasionally you’ll have a home run, and that’s great, but base hits really matter.
When we practice good habits, they impact everything we do at work, at home, and everywhere. I’m reminded of the phrase The way you do anything is the way you do everything. When we make a point of doing things well—including the little things—we may not become successful overnight, but we will get incrementally better every day. People will notice. Consistency matters. Over time they’ll begin to see us as someone they can count on. That’s when opportunities start to come our way.
It has always worked like this and it still does. We hear a lot about how much things have changed over the past few years and how different the world is now. And yes, it’s true. But people are still people. We still make business decisions—whom we buy from, partner with, hire, and promote—on human impulses. Do we like the person? Do we trust them? Do we believe they will show up for work, meet their deadlines, deliver solid work, and be there when we need them?
When people can answer these questions about you with a confident yes, you’re more likely to be successful. If they can’t, you might experience short-term success but it’s unlikely that you’ll sustain it. There is just no substitute for getting the basics right every time—today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year…and forever.
How can you master the basics? Here are a few tips:
Make your bed. I’m certainly not the first person to say this. There’s even a book by this title by William H. McRaven. But I do believe that making one’s bed starts the day out right.
Show up on time. It’s a sign of respect and enthusiasm. And people will notice when you’re late. Build in a few extra minutes just in case. (Remember the mantra Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.)
Do the hard work. Be known for execution. Sometimes we get caught up in the glamour of innovation but never get to the execution phase. I find there’s no shortage of big, creative ideas. There is a shortage of people who want to sit down, get focused, and put in the elbow grease it takes to execute.
Meet your deadlines and do a good job. However, don’t get so caught up in perfection that you obsess and nitpick and drag a project on for too long.
Know what you do well and play to your strengths. No one is good at everything. Take what you are good at and really, really develop it.
Keep your promises. In fact, under-promise and over-deliver. People will be delighted when they get more than they expected, and they’ll associate that feeling with you in the future.
Don’t underestimate small opportunities. Sometimes if it’s not a huge contract, people don’t work as hard on it. They put it off until the last minute and then rush through it. But big opportunities often grow from small ones.
Remember that honesty and integrity matter. Deceptive or shady people can and often do thrive in the short term. But those who are successful in the long term are the ones others know they can trust and count on to tell the hard truths and do the right things (even when it’s really, really hard).
Be likable. This is at least as important as skill set and often more so. All business happens through relationships. Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. Be interested, not interesting.
Be known for follow-up. Assume the ball is always in your court. Send frequent reminders and always be asking if there is anything you can do to help.
Truly successful people never feel that they have “arrived.” They know they can always be better—better leaders, better employees, better partners, better friends. They know they can always learn from others. They know that every day is an opportunity to grow.
That’s the beauty of life and the gift of each new day. We are all works in progress. None of us will ever be perfect, but we can always move in a positive direction.