S. Covey's famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has always been a bit troubling to me. The habits he mentions are terrific, and we can forgive him for coming up with an 8th habit later on in order to revitalize the brand.
But when I look at the truly successful people I know and compare them to those who struggle or are less successful, I see only one crucial habit that separates the best from the rest.
It is the ability to persevere without being a victim to challenging circumstances.
Challenging circumstances are all around us, and it is easy to fall victim to them. We grow old. We get sick. Loved ones get sick. We face tough economic times. We get a bad break and things start to spiral downward. We have to deal with difficult, even vicious people.
Truly successful people keep moving forward in the face of these circumstances, with a can-do attitude and sense of possibility. Unsuccessful people do not.
There are examples all around us, every single day.
Most recently, people in the USA were moved by a one-legged college wrestler who won the NCAA title. He could have dabbled in wrestling, or stayed home and wallowed in pity about his disability. Meanwhile, no major wrestling school would take him, and so he went to a state school (Arizona State). Even while people mocked him, he practiced harder and harder, and stuck to his goal of being the best wrestler in his class. He caused all sorts of debates about whether he had an advantage or disadvantage with one leg, but ultimately he won the title. He did not let circumstances get him down, and now he has become an inspiration to millions.
We see examples close to home. Across the street from me, a neighbor is facing foreclosure. He bought his house at the wrong time, at too high a price (looking back), and his business has gone down hill in the recession. He knows he is going to lose his house. Regardless, he came out this weekend to power wash his roof and do some landscaping around the house to keep its appearance up — as a courtesy to the neighbors. Many people in this situation just let their property go — and some have even destroyed their property to stick it to the banks — but he did not. He showed character and class despite his circumstances.
We see examples during major disasters. I just read an article about the ways that Japanese youth — even while they feel disenfranchised economically — are banding together to do everything they can to help victims recover from the recent earthquake and tsunami.
It is easier than ever to be a victim. Wealthy executives did it during the Great Recession. For instance, who can forget the USA automative company executives flying down to Washington DC in their separate private jets to beg for a bailout from Congress? Similarly, the US is finally reaching a tipping point where more citizens take from government than contribute to it.
It takes courage and character to continue to persevere even when things look glum. Those who have the ability to keep going, regardless of circumstances, are already successful — even if it takes time for them to see the results in the form of material success.
The test is how we think and behave when we face circumstances. Do you cry out at the injustice of the world? Do you get bitter? Do you hold out your hands and call your local government representative? Do you call a lawyer and file a huge lawsuit?
Or do you choose to move forward, keep laster-focused on your aspirations, and take one next step towards the goal?
As coaches, we can help our clients to keep moving forward, regardless of circumstances. In fact, one of my favorite modules in the Center for Executive Coaching, is a set of conversations that moves people (our clients, and our clients' employees) from negativity and cynicism to positive, productive action and results.