What is required to succeed at a rigorous challenge requiring a long-term commitment? While recently participating in an exercise to answer to this question, I thought of a number of ways I could address this. Many of which are true in the perspective they convey. We certainly need inspiration. We need a sense of realistic hope. We also need the right application of building habits that will see us through the long haul. But when it comes to completing a long-term goal that occupies a great deal of willpower, much of our success comes down to discipline. The rigors required to attain a significant goal require what Peter Drucker described as the Effective Executive: first managing ourselves. Here are three core components of the disciplines of success: focus, perseverance and persistence.
Focus. The first of these disciplines is the ability to and application of focus. It is a self-obviating understatement to say we live in a world of extreme distraction. And we can thank the remarkable world technology (of which I am very thankful for) for this. We have always had to battle distraction, but never at the amplified and accelerated pace that we now contend with. The higher the aspiration of leadership, the greater the need for the discipline of single-minded focus.
This involves two points, the first is the actual skill set of focus, next is the development of habits in order to successfully apply this skill set. To develop the necessary skill set to sharpen our focus, we need to perform an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. This is simply part of self-awareness and the continuous improvement process. Where we are already strong (possible interests, etc.), we may need only modify our habits to capitalize on those strengths. But where we need improvement we need to take deliberate action to ratchet up our deficiencies. From here, we need to take deliberate actions to develop habits that will enable us to apply the skill set of focus.
Perseverance. The act of perseverance sounds a lot like persistence, and at some point, perseverance certainly means exercising persistence as well. But the distinction between the two is the origin of the needed resistance. Successful completion of a goal requires perseverance regarding any number of life events that originate internally as well as externally. External challenges such as managing time, home, family and work may require foregoing discretionary personal time. Internal challenges will involve fatigue and emotions. Both sets of challenges require perseverance and only those who persevere at a long-term challenge will complete it.
Persistence. Closely related to perseverance is persistence. As mentioned before, both are related but distinct. Perseverance requires resistance to internal and external challenges. But persistence requires mental and physical output of energy not only to resist the forces of challenges, but overcome obstacles that would prevent a successful work product. There is much that can be said about willpower, the instinct of it, and that we generally quit too easily. Those with unusual, pre-determined persistence will be successful and see long-term challenges through to completion. This is the willpower of leadership.