We consistently hear about millennials being lazy and unfocused. This bleeds into other generational groups as well. In fact, while crafting firms’ strategic plans, I often hear about QA/QC issues. Leaders in firms lament about how they must pay extra attention because the workforce today doesn’t have the same attention to detail, reverence for quality, and doesn’t understand how that affects client relationships. These are simply symptoms at the periphery of the core issue. What has seemed to shift is the focus on true mastery of your chosen profession and a willingness to look internally to develop an individual and collective morality in the pursuit of excellence.

Making a commitment to mastery and excellence will make your life a lot simpler. It will take away excuses and reasons for your leadership to doubt you. Filter your actions through a personally driven mission, vision, and value lens. These should align with the firm you have chosen to dedicate your time to. If it doesn’t, you probably aren’t working for the right firm or the right people.

I hear a lot about work-life balance and flextime policies these days which partially, in my opinion, is to pursue temporary pleasures. I’m not saying that there aren’t very important reasons for having this balance as most people define it. Not only will mastery, excellence, and moral purpose help you professionally, but also in your individual pursuit of happiness. In a previous life, I started a medical device firm with the purpose of treating clinical depression. In this capacity I learned just how severe and to what magnitude people around the world are suffering.

Whether you come to the realization through a religious world view, through enlightenment reasoning, or other methods, happiness is a moral purpose. That purpose you’ve chosen is the profession and activities you are dedicating your life to. In fact, Aristotle defined happiness in a life well-lived. To him, something was good if it fulfilled a purpose. A human’s purpose is to act with right reason which makes us unique. George Washington stated “the consideration that human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected. …” Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote in his memoir about surviving the Holocaust, “Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost.”

This isn’t merely subjective but backed up by evidence and several studies like the one at the University of Carleton in Canada which found those who reported a strong purpose in life at the outset of the study were 15 percent more likely to be alive than those who did not – for every age group. A study of 951 patients with dementia found those who felt a sense of purpose were 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than others. This has been replicated over and over again, so I won’t belabor the point. Needless to say, I’d hire a person who’s taken the time to figure out who they are, who acts with moral purpose, and is committed to excellence in their chosen discipline; someone of true character that aligns with my firm over someone with an excellent skillset on paper any day of the week.

Assuming 8 hours of sleep for each of us, that leaves us with 16 hours a day, which requires just about all our waking hours be directed towards activities that help us become professionally and personally better. The goal is to achieve mastery. This isn’t working constantly for 16 hours a day. That is simply impossible. It is, however, aligning all of our activities and actions toward this goal. Leaders are readers and this is a part of your development. Developing yourself physically is also key. It will help your cognition, it will help you perform at a higher level, and let’s face it, this is a long-term game that we are all hoping to be involved in for some time. Given that, here are a couple of steps you can take right away to help inculcate these qualities in you.

  1. Build yourself a routine that allows you to learn, reflect, gather feedback, exercise, and operate at the highest level of excellence in your daily work environment. Something you consistently follow. For me, I have several routines throughout the day. Outside of some of the topics we’ve discussed so far, I have three pillars, which if not in alignment, do not allow me to operate optimally in my professional life – faith, family, and fitness.
  2. Develop a method that allows you to improve on moral and character issues. Benjamin Franklin was notorious for developing methods for self-betterment. He actually created a calendar of virtues, seeking to wipe out his tendency toward wrongdoing. You can find this online. He also kept a journal that allowed him to track progress.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. This is a constant journey that promotes complete dedication to excellence in your professional life. As Jocko Willink says in his book, “Extreme Ownership,” discipline equals freedom. It is a great concept. Don’t try to do everything at once. Slowly integrate new habits and new routines into your life. Discipline is key, though. Willpower or motivation is not enough. Take these thoughts and suggestions to heart, and the probability is pretty good that you will be very successful in your career and likely make it to the Principal/Ownership level.


Phil Keil is director of Strategy Consulting, Zweig Group. Contact him at pkeil@zweiggroup.com.

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