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How Following Through Is A Game Changer

Jul 07, 2021

There’s a quote made famous quite some time ago: “80% of success is showing up”. While I’m confident this was not to be taken literally, I always felt this notion represented such a low standard. So I’ve amended these words of wisdom, when speaking to young adults, by emphasizing the point: “80% of success is FOLLOWING THROUGH”.

Over several decades of experiences with those from all corners of life, I find people often do not follow through on things promised. These include highly intelligent, talented, experienced and kind individuals. They simply did not do what they said they would and this creates a huge deficit in credibility. I’ve witnessed this personally and professionally. While equally negligent, this can be particularly devastating in business as it’s just too competitive of a world out there.

Be the person who builds a reputation as someone who always follows through and can be relied upon in getting it done. If you do, I can assure you will be valued and consistently in demand.

Will there be changing conditions that impact your ability to get something done? Absolutely. Should it impact your ability in following through? Absolutley not. If it ends up being more difficult than you anticipated, be honest (and humble) and acknowledge it was harder than you thought. If you discover that you need more time than you initially thought, be transparent (and considerate), say you need more time and confirm a revised deliverable date. In the age of e-notes and e-alarms, available in the palm of our hands, forgetting to follow through should never happen. Or just blowing it off in hopes that the other person had forgotten, or didn’t care, is simply inexcusable; regardless of what you think is the level of importance. Not only is this discourteous, to say the least, this establishes a really poor habit. We are what we consistently do, so why not do it the right way?

We’ve all heard the phrase: “talk is cheap.” And there’s a business expression that’s an appropriate way to complete that statement: “execution is everything”. I’ve collaborated with and hired hundreds of executives in my career. If given the choice of a person with incredible talent and intelligence versus another with (relatively) less of those attributes, yet possesses superior emotional intelligence and diligent follow through, I would hire the latter every time. Because I know follow through requires so many other characteristics like: grit, perseverance, attention-to-detail, empathy, consideration and professionalism.

Sometimes follow through can be quite daunting and overwhelming. Here are a few tips I’ve found to be useful and encourage you to consider.

·     Follow the rule of “X by Y”. While this may seem incredibly simplistic, I remind myself often that brilliant high-achievers, Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci, are known for saying “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. So if you just finished a meeting with your colleagues and action items were covered, be the person that respectfully takes the lead and sends out a confirmation of items to tackle (‘X”) and completion dates (“Y”). This way, there’s no confusion on deliverables. Ambiguity will destroy you every time. Clarity is power.

·     Employ a “marathon mindset”. There’s good reason why running a marathon serves as an excellent metaphor for accomplishing goals. I was fortunate to complete three NYC Marathons and here’s some of what I learned from many hours of training and absorbing valuable intelligence from those who were so generous in sharing advice.  There are so many I could list. Here are my four favorites:

1) Create Public Accountability: Once I made the decision to run, I made sure I informed as many people as possible, so there was a compelling rationale as to not let myself or others down.

2) Humbly Seek Out Mentors: Running a marathon is no small undertaking. While I was excited to accomplish this on my own, I reached out to as many people as I could, who had already succeeded in completing marathons. I also read about the best runners and triathletes in the world and learned about how they trained, physically and emotionally. Even if your particular task requires a new, creative approach, it’s still helpful to consider best practices for context and perspective.

3) Compartmentalize: When I first started to train, thinking about the entire 26.2 miles seemed overwhelming and I knew it could lead to anxiety overload. Valuable advice shared with me was to start focusing on just the first 2 miles. When this ultimately becomes easy, you move up to 5 miles and build from there. This concept of “chunking” or “segmentation” has proven to be invaluable in helping me to accomplish many challenging facets of life.

4) Embrace It: Another profound insight shared by others was: enjoy the journey; embrace the process of discovery, discipline, progress and not just the end result.

My two children are tired of hearing a quote I source often, yet they have come to appreciate over time. “Successful people are those who are willing to do the things that others are not”. And I believe following through is an integral part of this. Learn from your experiences. Learn from others. Learn how to approach and embrace difficult tasks. Develop the art and skill of following through and you will be the person that others respect and look up to. You’ll end up accomplishing more than you ever dreamed of.

About the Author

Peter Russell is Founder & CEO of Kindling - a video based, online mentorship platform that empowers young adults to thrive, personally and professionally.