02 September 2015

Lessons in success: Do the work; the hard work most others won't do

Nicole Underwood and Sue-Ellen WattsI am on Hamilton Island for the 2015 RCSA Conference as I write this. Speaking at the conference will be a person I know very well: Sue-Ellen Watts. Attending the conference, but not speaking (as she has done previously), will be Nicole Underwood, a person I also know very well. 

Sue-Ellen and Nicole were my first two clients, after I opened my coaching doors in 2004. At the time of each commencing their respective coaching programs, Sue-Ellen and Nicole were both employees. Now, twelve years later, they are both successful business owners.

If you meet either Sue-Ellen or Nicole (and I hope you do), see either of them speak or undertake some basic research about their respective businesses, I am sure you will be impressed. Both are passionate, driven and highly competent. I am very happy that our industry has such impressive, emerging business owners such as Sue-Ellen and Nicole; it augers well for the future of our industry.

It would be natural to see Nicole's or Sue-Ellen's respective success as inevitable given the people they are. It would be natural, and forgivable, to make this mistake.

I was reminded of this very clearly when I read Nicole's excellent latest blog How to reduce staff turnover and to ensure top talent stays. In the blog, Nicole writes about her experience of confronting ongoing issues in the business she was running. The stark realisation was that she had to have a hard look in the mirror and make the necessary changes to her leadership style. It was a tough place for her to look. To Nicole's complete credit, she not only had a long, hard look, she acted on what she found. She made the difficult, but necessary changes, and the results followed.

Sue-Ellen had a similar journey, but different in that when she started her journey to being a business owner, she was a long way from that goal because, even as an employee, she wasn't responsible for any staff, only herself. Sue-Ellen possessed ambition and determination but found her self-doubt a massive barrier to overcome. Like Nicole, Sue-Ellen had the courage to face up to the fact that there was only one person holding her back from fulfilling her ambitions; and she looked at that person every morning in the mirror.

Although Sue-Ellen and Nicole have different businesses and have taken different paths there are some very important things in common.


They were both:

1. Ambitious; yet clear they were not where they wanted to be
2. Prepared to invest in external help
3. Weren't looking for a quick fix
4. Prepared to engage in purposeful, rigourous and (sometimes) confronting conversations
5. Prepared to be held accountable for their commitments
6. Prepared to do the hard work necessary outside their comfort zone, and to keep doing it until the previous unproductive behaviour was broken and new behaviour was ingrained


Sue-Ellen and Nicole both did the work. They were gifted nothing. They expected no favours. They weren't looking for their respective circumstances to change.

This observation about hard work, at one level, is incredibly obvious; yet very few people are prepared to do the hard work necessary to break through their existing, self-perpetuated, limiting beliefs and behaviours.

Geoff Colvin has written a brilliant book that investigates the foundation of success; Why Talent is Overrated. The author examines successful people and demonstrates how their individual successes are as the result of backgrounds, opportunities and actions not greatly understood or acknowledged. I wrote about it four years ago (High Achievers: Born or Made?*). The key point that Colvin makes is that success is as much about 'deliberate practice' as anything else.

The five components of 'deliberate practice' are (elaborated on in the original blog, above):

1. Deliberate practice is designed specifically to improve performance
2. Deliberate practice can be repeated a lot
3. Feedback on results is continuously available
4. It's highly demanding mentally
5. It's hard


Focus on the last point for a minute: 'It's hard'.

I mean really focus on it; 'It's hard'.

As Colvin succinctly puts it:
'… the reality that deliberate practice is hard can even be seen as good news. It means that most people won't do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more'.

Remember this hard work if you come across either Nicole or Sue-Ellen this week at the conference (or any other time). If you really want to learn something from their individual success, ask them about the hard things they each did, and continued to do, that made the biggest difference to the results they were, and still are, generating.

I promise you, you will learn something highly valuable if you do.

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