I have always prided myself on my persistence. Throughout my career, persistence has allowed me to win large, demanding corporate clients. I always asked directly and boldly for the business. I always went for the ‘assumptive close’. A ‘no’ to me meant ‘maybe later’.
And then I went into people leadership. And things changed.
I realized that sometimes you need to give up and back off. Sometimes, continuing to persist can make you appear pushy and overbearing. Priorities change and resources need to be reallocated. Sometimes the effort that goes into something is not worth the expected returns. Sometimes, you simply do not have control. When you work through other people, you cede control.
Recently, I have come to the shattering realization that I have swayed too far to the other side of persistence. In my desire to adopt a more strategic, but mellower leadership mindset, I have become less persistent.
I got to thinking — What are some of the things that can weaken your persistence muscle over time?
Other People’s Expectations
As a leader, there is only so far I can push my people without disengaging them. People have different levels of motivation. They have different perspectives on how far to push before giving up. When managing sensitive inter-organizational stakeholder relationships, you need to give people room to breathe. If I needed something from another VP, I wouldn’t get very far by emailing them every day. I cannot be a bull in a china shop and effectively work through other people.
But maybe the solution isn’t to stop being persistent. Maybe the solution is to just tweak my approach. I can still hold my team accountable while softening the message. I can still keep trying to engage that other VP but only follow up once a week. The best way to remain persistent when working through other people is to show them what is in it for them. To create urgency, it helps to re-frame things from other people’s perspectives.
Lack of Control
Lack of control over your workday, real or perceived, can wear you down over time. When you repeatedly fail at something, it’s tempting to conclude that it just wouldn’t work.
At my company, I have been trying to get a new credit policy change implemented for some time. This change will make us more competitive in the market and allow us to win more business. I have tried various methods over the last two years to impel this change. I have tried different leaders, processes, and arguments. But the red tape keeps getting wrapped tighter and tighter around my legs. My company has determined that this credit policy change is not an acceptable risk for the Bank. Never mind the fact that all the other big banks in Canada are doing it. I disagree — but it is not up to me.
Recently, I told my team that this change is not going to happen. After all, I have tried. I have other things to focus on. Sure, we are losing business. Sure, our reputation is suffering. But what more can I do here?
In this particular situation, my decision to walk away might be a prudent one. However, what happens when this attitude starts to imbue other aspects of my work life? The danger is that this situation can turn me off from pursuing my ideas altogether. I may feel that, because I was unsuccessful in getting this change implemented, no policy changes are worth investing my time on.
If the chances to succeed at something are slim, why even put my name on it? After all, I already know it isn’t going to work. So why should I associate myself with a prospective failure?
When faced with a situation like this, it is important to do a gut check. Yes, things may not work out. But what would life be if we didn’t even try? To continue to grow as a person, it is essential that you sometimes flirt with the boundary. You need to color outside the lines because that is where true growth lies. Ego is a cage. Being trapped in it means you will wither away over time. When you are in a cage, it is smart to keep trying to break out. Try new ways, or kick at the door again and again. Just because it didn’t work the first time, doesn’t mean we stop kicking.
When you are too comfortable, you stagnate. Going back to my credit policy change, it would be very easy for me to not bother. After all, my team is closing deals even without it. Sure, this change will allow us to do even more. But is that enough incentive for me? I am earning a comfortable living. I am respected. I am recognized as a capable leader. My annual bonus allows me to pay down my mortgage every year and also put away enough in my vacation slush fund. Why rock the boat and risk falling off? The incremental value to me is limited compared to the effort that would be required.
When things are going well, it is tempting to keep doing things the way you always have. Although the status quo mindset may give you temporary reprieve, it always leaves you vulnerable to changing seasons. What happens if my team stops performing tomorrow? What happens if the well dries up, I lose people, market conditions change, or stronger competitors emerge? Wouldn’t that credit policy change suddenly become more significant? Couldn’t it possibly help me open new doors to buttress my team against the bucketing winds? When you are stuck in your comfort zone, you are an open wound just waiting for a fly to make a home.
My advice? Never stop being persistent. Persistence wins battles. It keeps you going in the toughest of times. It is a manifestation of self-belief. It is a commitment to yourself to always keep fighting and to never accept defeat when something truly matters. Don’t give up after two tries when the third one is what is needed to unlock the pearly gates.
Ever since I came to my uncomfortable self-realization, I have re-committed to working out my persistence muscle all over again. I will not back down. I will not walk away. I will keep trying. Even if it feels like a scream in a soundproof room. Because who knows who may be on the other side putting on a hearing aid.