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Why Your Amazing Work Ethic May Be Holding You Back

Yesterday, I left my house at 5 AM and pulled back in the driveway at 11:30 PM. Another 18.5 hour workday on the books without breaks other than travel time. My records so far are 36 hours straight on the job and 80 hours inside 4 days.

Suffice it to say I'm not a stranger to hard work. That's my ego talking though when I start spitting out those crazy numbers with pride.

Thinking that working long hours day after day is somehow a good thing held me back for a long time. Long days are sometimes unavoidable, but if you're working well past closing time day after day, you're almost certainly holding yourself and your company back.

A Good Work Ethic is Required to Be Successful

It is true that if you are or want to be a leader or business owner, you must be willing to put in the time and effort it requires to be successful. That's why I didn't hesitate to hop in the car yesterday and drive four hours one way when one of my best technicians called me saying he needed my help. If you aren't willing to get your hands dirty occasionally, you aren't going to have team members who have your back.

Being willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done got me to where I am today, running a successful multi-million dollar company, serving as a director on multiple boards, and having people pay me thousands of dollars to give them advice on their business.


That same work ethic held me back for a long time.

Let me explain.

Managing and Doing are Two Very Different Things

When I first became a manager a few decades ago, the hardest part for me was making the leap from playing the game to being the coach. I was put into the position because I was one of the best technicians we had, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. The thing I struggled with was getting things done through other people.

I was great at getting the job done myself, so when one of my techs called, I would immediately throw on my hero cape and save the day. I'd fix the problem for them and move on to the next one. It was easier that way, and I enjoyed being the hero.

I LOVE being the hero, but that was part of the problem!

The problem was that the only thing the techs were learning is that if they had a problem, the answer was to call Don. It quickly became apparent that I could not be everywhere at once. Covering multiple states, it was not only tough, it was physically impossible for me to do the job of a team of technicians.

That's why we had a team.

Changing to a Leadership Mindset

Eventually, I realized that in order to get the job done, I had to switch from the mindset of doing everything myself to teaching others how to do the job. At times, it felt like I was being lazy, but I had finally realized I was there to coach, not to play the game. That's the reason why we promote people to managers, isn't it? To have them teach others on the team how to do the job?

It also gave my team that same sense of pride I used to have when they were able to take care of the problems once they had proper training. By freeing up my time by not doing their work for them, I was also giving them back that feeling of being a valuable member of the team.

That concept seems so obvious today looking back, but I regularly get messages from business owners who are in over their heads who are suffering the same problem.

“I don't have a problem getting business, I actually have too much work and can't keep up!!! I'm about to throw in the towel and go back to a 9 to 5 job, I made just about as much when I did that anyway AND I got vacations!”

“I haven't had a vacation in five years!”

“My wife is threatening to leave me because I'm never at home. Help!”

“My business has been stuck for the last ten years at the same income level! I'm working like a dog but can't seem to get anywhere, help!”

These people are all saying the same thing. “I have a great work ethic and I take pride in what I do. But I don't know how to get things done through other people.” Or “I haven't really taken a pencil to my business so I can't afford to hire others.” But that's a different topic.

Smart and hard-working doesn't always translate into business success.

I was a straight-A student in school. I got into Mensa which has a minimum requirement of an IQ in the top two percent of the population. In other words, I'm not exactly dumb by most conventional standards.

But as I grew up, I started looking around and realized that many of those C students who tried to copy off me in school were driving BMW's, while I was working round the clock, broke, and still driving a rusted out Ford Escort.

Success in business isn't about intelligence, at least not the intelligence that gets you A's on your math homework. The most successful business owners learned in high school how to build relationships and get others to help them get the work done. I learned how to work hard and do it all myself in school, which severely limited my success for a long time.

Sometimes our work ethic and pride of ownership can get in the way of our success. If you are still doing everything yourself, take a hard look at some of the most successful people in the world.

If you are still doing everything yourself thinking that's the way to business success, take a hard look at the most successful people in the world.

Successful People Have Teams

Do you think multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos runs Amazon all by himself?

How about multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, do you think he spends every day writing insurance policies at Geico or delivering boxes of Coca-Cola since he has a large ownership stake in those companies?

Of course not!

They have teams of people that take care of the details. Yes, both of those guys have a great work ethic. But they also know that sometimes our work ethic works against us.

I'm learning from them slowly but surely and my 18.5-hour workdays are very few and far between these days. Today I took my kids fishing because I pushed through yesterday and got the job done rather than staying overnight in Chicago.

Yes, sometimes you need to go all out to show support for your team when you are the leader, and at least for me I still feel a sense of pride when I know I've got a week's worth of work done in a day once in awhile. But don't go it alone and don't feel like you have to spend every waking hour working, or your success will be limited.

That's why I opened this website up to guest authors. One lone blogger can only do so much, but a community of people with a shared mission of helping each other grow in our personal and professional lives? That has unlimited potential.

Don Smith

The Personal Growth Channel founder, Smith also runs a technology company and is a former bank director. Happily married with five children, he lives in Springfield, Illinois.