“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” Colin Powell

With the holidays in full swing, opportunities abound to recognize and celebrate your wins from the year. But before you throw the most epic of holiday parties, basking in the recognition of a job well done, consider this:

Quiet or humble displays of effort are more personally impactful and succeed in developing a more deeply embed memory than rich or “external” displays.

Perhaps rather than an extravagant holiday bash, you should go for a long hike.

Leading an organization takes energy and requires a high degree of resiliency. It’s something you don’t develop from the top of a pedestal, you build it through the process of getting there. Humans are not designed for a life of comfort, but for challenge. Which does not require the ego of winning, it requires the humble effort of doing the work.

Humble effort is the long hours in training, reflection and study. It's the stuff that gets turned into the montage scenes in books and movies because it takes too long. It’s the habits that grind away at weakness and build new skills. Humble effort is the difference between talking about your new exercise routine and just getting up and starting the work. Stepping off on that 5am run, the extra hour reading to our children or coaching that struggling employee. Humble effort is not designed or intended to be seen, it’s to be lived.  

Think of rich displays of effort like the wavetop posts of social media, lives highlighted through the lens of the best filters our smartphones can muster. Rich external displays actually damage individuals and organizations because they focus on the successes, not the journey. Through the lens of the peaks we are learning the wrong lessons and overlooking the struggle in the valleys. It shapes the belief that we can have the rewards without the work.

Celebrate the wins, your team deserves it, but as leaders you must make time for the humble effort, reflection and pursuit of quiet endeavors. Building habits of action that ensure we are challenged, thinking critically, writing, getting honest assessments and yes even some physical struggle. Use discomfort to build your ability to lead.  

I humbly present three challenges for you if you’re bold enough to start now. Three challenges to add to your schedule this week (and every week after):

  1. Book a minimum of 30 min for quiet reflection. You can journal, sit quietly or talk one on one with someone (not gossip, talk about growth).

  2. Tell someone “thank you.” Try writing and mailing a card but if you must, just give them a call.

  3. Commit to something physical for the week. Go for a walk, a run, hit the gym but get outside of the office/ house. (three times a week is even better)

Use humble effort as part of the process to hone yourself and your craft. Dedicate time to learning and growing, out of the limelight, in the place where winners are made, not celebrated. Remember the process is the goal, don’t let the only thing holding you back be your ego.