Who should work harder, the old or the young?

Maybe it is a sign of maturity (or simply aging) but I have a newfound respect for days off. There was a long period of time where I took minimal time off and tended to work through all of that. To be fair, there were times when I was in ‘startup mode’ where I clearly overdid it and it and acknowledge that it led to worse results not better. As my roles have become more strategic I realize that I need these periods to really think about the business and the team. I can also see the positive effects on our folks who need time off to recharge and prepare for the great sacrifices ahead.

Michael Zammuto headshot 2015

2015 Headshot for Michael Zammuto, internet and software executive.

But I do worry about the messages we send people earlier in their careers. Young, ambitious people need as many opportunities as possible to build skills and credibility. For these folks, I think a more rigorous schedule makes sense. I don’t think a lot of young people get the message that they should outwork their competition. I remember at most early stages in my career I would make it a goal to beat the boss to the office and stay until he/she was gone. This wasn’t a substitution of effort over efficiency so please don’t send me messages about working smarter. I am dedicated to that too. But as anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell knows, effort is a critical part of success.

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”   – Malcolm Gladwell

So of course you should work smart. But never underestimate the need to gain as much experience as possible and that means working hard and working long. In fact, I would argue that a lot of skill building early in one’s career benefits most from trial, error and repetition. For executives the skillsets are different and they way you apply your skills are different. Being bogged down in repetitive, tactical execution is detrimental to successful leadership. So the main point I would argue is we should think about what drives the outcomes that makes us successful, acknowledge it changes as we change roles and adjust our work styles and schedule to get the best results. It isn’t sexy but the young do need to outwork the old.

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”   – Malcolm Gladwell