There’s a growing trend for employers to offer more flexible working arrangements from three days a week, to working from home on regular days, to temporary contracts. Whilst this trend serves the needs of many moderately performing employees and employers, its destructive to startups, scaleups and high performing businesses and people.

In nearly 20 years of coaching I’ve never seen a replacement for “true grit” and profound social intelligence, which are the on-trend terminologies for essentially what we all call “hard work” and “leadership and teamwork”.

True grit is the ability to work hard over a sustained period of time with a sustained focus, demonstrating unrelenting resilience and perseverance. True grit creates true success – which is exactly what startups, scaleups and high performing businesses and people seek.

True grit is in complete opposition to the notion of part-time, because its not a part-time notion by definition. Moreover true grit is infectious, but only if proximal to others. This dictates you physically need to be surrounded by your team as much as possible, which then discounts and minimises the approach of regularly working remotely. Temporary contracts also obviously don’t speak to anything enduring or long term, so if you want your business to thrive and succeed, you need to minimise the amount of these too.

Leadership and teamwork also is significantly hindered but part-time or remote working because it limits your Social Intelligence. Working remotely on occasion does have its place, but fundamentally if you are a leader or high performer, you need to turn up to the workplace where the rest of your high performing team is so that you can leverage Social Intelligence. Social intelligence according to one of my favourite people theorists, Daniel Goleman, has two key components:

  1. Empathy – the ability to understand others.
  2. Influence – the ability to persuade others of a certain perspective, position or opinion and for them act accordingly.

Your empathy and influence is driven by your ability to communicate which includes verbal and non-verbal observation and expression. Extensive body language and social research has established that much of our communication is non-verbal and relies not only on seeing others but physically being present with others. Consequently non-verbal communication has a huge impact on our ability and capacity to empathise and influence others, namely our Social Intelligence. And, as Daniel Goleman informs us our Social Intelligence is the foundation of our leadership and teamwork. Never has this famous quote been more true:

“80 percent of success is just showing up” — Woody Allen

Of course there are many mature, low growth and declining industries and businesses that love and need the idea of flexible resources as a means of moderating costs as required, but these are not whom I am discussing. There are also many employees whose lives are not driven by their success at work, but instead seek “life balance” and “lifestyle”, they too are not whom I am referring to, nor judging. I am also not saying that you cannot perform your job adequately remotely. I am saying that if you want to be a top performing leader or team member, meaning in the top 10%, you need to turn up to the place your team resides and where you workforce aggregates the vast majority of the time. If not, you’re destined for only decent productivity, but not elite levels of performance.

If you aspire to be a top performer, then forget “Life Balance”. No high performing executive or entrepreneur can have life balance for two main reasons:

  1. Life balance is an unquantifiable concept that eludes everyone due to the fact that we are all in a constant state of flux and imbalance, moving from one state to another. Therefore pursuit of Life Balance is a ridiculous distraction to begin with. We do however have the choice over where, and for how long we focus on things, but the concept of “Life Balance” is just an enduring, fashionable and elusive HR term.
  2. Life balance implies a scale like equality that flies in the face of skewed focus and effort. Even if you could balance some mythical aspect of work and life, it would necessarily dictate that you were not disproportionately investing in work. It’s this very disproportionate investment in work that allows for high performance. True grit is minimalist in its breadth of focus, not broad and encompassing, whilst enduring in its effort. Just as any truly successful business person, athlete or artist knows, your focus must be extreme and your effort completely disproportionately dedicated to your professional, athletic or artistic success.

This is not to say you can’t be health conscious, fit and socially or family oriented whilst being successful. It does mean if you are a highly ambitious, successful and focused businessman or woman, you won’t be a serious athlete or budding socialite.

If you  want to be a high performer, then cannot have it all, you must choose your focus.

Success does require a strong body and mind in order to allow for sustained personal resilience and focus. You must find a way to accommodate responsible eating, decent levels of exercise, regular fasting and consistent sleep. Additionally limited socialising, hobbies and creative outlets are key too. But the body-mind operational tactics are only the support mechanism for your high performance and success.

Some will argue “success” is how you define it, so a lifestyle oriented focus can be just as “successful” as a business one. Absolutely, but here I’m referring to business success rather than any other form of success. My position is that whilst a Tim Ferris 4 hour work week sounds appealing, that’s about individual’s defining success as lifestyle rather than high performance business success. Guaranteed Tim Ferris isn’t investing in too many companies where the majority of their workforce work part time either.

No successful leader I coach works less than 50 hours per week. Granted many of them work more, and could be more brutal with their focus and smarter about health, but they all show true grit. It’s the same with any of their most focused and successful employees – none of whom are part time, work from home regularly or on temporary contracts.

The image for this article shows Navy SEAL training. Their entire induction program “Hell-Week”, their ongoing training and life or death success is premised on the principle of true grit in the company and support of others. There are no part-time SEALS.

In Summary

  • True grit is the key to high performance & business success which relies on resilience, perseverance and focus.
  • Part-time, flexible and contract working relationships by definition are in contradiction to the above.
  • Flexibility is the enemy of “high performance” and the friend of “lifestyle” – it depends which one you want.


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