Will Power: The Weak Sister of Fun

I see it all too often in my consulting work: leaders telling the members of their teams that working harder is the answer to every obstacle and challenge and that it is the key to long term success.

Examples:

  • “We’re not here to have fun; we’re here to work.” Good luck convincing people that they aren’t allowed to enjoy life.
  • “You are a salaried employee; you need to work until the job is done.” Would you sign an open-ended contract like that? “Yes, you can buy my house. Just keep paying me every month until I tell you it’s paid for.”
  • “If you want to get ahead here you need to put the company first (give up your work/personal balance).” See the first example above.
  • “To succeed here, you’re going to need to give us 110%.” This is one of those manic, impossible statements; there can only be 100% of anything.

Sure, applying more effort to a task will help you achieve it in the short run, no doubt. If you’re looking for sustainable success, however, your approach needs to be self perpetuating; i.e., working “smart.”

By definition extraordinary effort, or “will power,” isn’t sustainable. Any time you exceed the baseline of normal human effort you incur higher levels of fatigue, which will lead to lower levels of effort (i.e., “burnout”). Any energy system will always seek to self-regulate and return to homeostasis, a fancy word for a normal level of functioning that can be sustained over time.

“Okay Mr. Smartypants,” you say, “if working harder and willpower aren’t sustainable over time, what’s the answer to higher levels of achievement?” Instead, leverage two things: fun and focus.

The human drive for fun, happiness, enjoyment, etc. is the most powerful human force on the planet, so leverage it fully for business success. Add some focus (strategic planning, anyone?) so that you stop trying to do too many things at once and be everything to everybody, and you’ve got yourself a self-sustaining business success machine!

High-Performance Habits

  1. Insure that your company culture harnesses the prodigious power of fun and happiness.
  2. If you’re doing it now, stop telling your team that willpower and “trying harder” are the keys to sustained long term success–they aren’t.
  3. Focus your efforts with a solid strategic plan.
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