The turn of the year is a traditional time for reflection on the past and making plans for the future. So it is a fair bet that, along with the well-meaning resolutions to become fitter, drink less or whatever, a fair number of self-help books are purchased, if not actually read.
One of the more thought-provoking of these titles to appear recently is What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself With The Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity and Personal Growth. In it, Leo Bottary, co-author of The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, builds on the interest in his Year of the Peer podcasts to offer a message that successful self-improvement is more of a team sport than many might suppose. Starting with the example of Joe Henderson, a veteran participant in that most individualistic of sports, the marathon, he repeats Henderson’s view that becoming truly accomplished at running (or anything) does not typically require the performance of superhuman feats. “All too often, success and happiness find those who have the discipline to do the everyday things, the things that anyone can do that most of us never will,” he writes. Sticking to the marathon analogy, he adds that running the race is the easy part – at least, compared with what it takes to prepare for it in terms of training, diet and the rest. It is the daily discipline kept up for several months that separate those who are likely to succeed from those who are not. “Because most people aren’t willing, doing what anyone can do is the key to reaching any goal,” he asserts.
This is a beguiling and inspiring idea. Most especially because – at a time when for all the supposed connectedness offered by technology – we have become very isolated and lacking in community, with perhaps more emphasis on self than on collaboration. Political discourse on both sides of the Atlantic has almost disappeared in a meaningful way as people have become firmer in their views and so seek comfort in the company of people who think and behave like them. Culture and schooling also perpetuate the ideal of the individual succeeding through their own hard work, determination and the rest of it. This is the often romanticized idea of the entrepreneur battling against the establishment. But Bottary believes that “even the most disciplined among us can benefit from involving our friends, family members and colleagues in helping us achieve our goals.”
Noting a 2016 study by the University of Scranton that reported that 92% of those who declared a new year’s resolution failed to achieve it, he says that most people probably set realistic goals but failed at least partly because they did not enlist the help of others who could have offered “the encouragement, advice and support that would have kept them on track and helped them do the simple things” that could have made their resolution a reality.
Of course, as with anything that claims to be simple, there is a lot to it. And at the center of Bottary’s strategy are preparation and planning. Only when they are done can the play part work. And he sticks to the self-help idea by insisting that the leaders should work on themselves first, then help others to work on themselves and then support teams in growing together. “Do it by surrounding yourself with the right people. These people will ultimately help you do the things anyone can do more often.”
I am a U.K.-based journalist with a longstanding interest in management. In a career dating back to the days before newsroom computers I have covered everything from popular music to local politics. I was for many years an editor and writer at the “Independent” and “Independent on Sunday” and have written three books, the most recent of which is “What you need to know about business.”
By Roger Trapp