The rules of winning in an age of uncertainty 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020 01:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Mediocrity, comfort zones and playing along with the crowd is considered hugely detrimental to one’s success – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara 

  • Understanding the key traits that separate the top performers from rest of the pack

Sun rises marking the beginning of the day – as people set off on their journeys to accomplish their life’s goals, dreams and purpose. There is a lot on everyone’s plates as we juggle to manage career and family, while constantly seeking and working harder for a better life. 

A quick glance at the messages depicted in advertisements around us clearly indicate – material success as a huge driver of life quality and evaluation: “Realise your dreams through education”, “Empower your future with our loans scheme”, “Be judged by what you drive”. We all strive for achievements in the form of higher education, employment, entrepreneurship/small business development, which are considered as small steps to boost progress in one’s life. Everyone has their own definition of success; for some it could be material gains, living a balanced and healthy life, etc. There are many dreams and aspirations out there but only a few manage to realise it.

Achieving one’s goals is a never-ending path of challenges and those who stay ahead of the game certainly play by certain rules. Therefore, I embarked on an interesting journey last year to study about ‘Success Mindset’ from inspiring personalities. I wanted to understand the art of winning and examine the key traits that separate the top performers from the rest of the pack. So I met and spoke to around 20 leaders/entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. In addition to that I analysed online interviews of a number of business leaders. 

Following the analysis, the traits are strikingly obvious and common among successful individuals, who followed certain rules to not only survive but thrive while achieving their goals. I started this work last year and had no clue whatsoever of the pandemic that was about to unfold in 2020. Little did I realise that I was collecting valuable gems of wisdom to help navigate the challenges, uncertainty and volatility set in store for the world. It’s only fair that I share what we learned, especially during a time when unpredictable disruption seems to be the new normal. 

Here is the summary of the key rules (findings) that can help young leaders to stay ahead of the game:

Rule #1: Reinvent to stay relevant

In a fast changing world, the ability to accept change quickly and turn obstacles into opportunities is a key trait. ‘Adaptability’ is the key notion of resilience, where one is able to quickly pivot new opportunities in the aftermath of an obstacle or crisis. In fact, challenges were perceived as blessings in disguise and nothing teaches it better than adversity. They prefer to be more agile.

Successful entrepreneurs approached the problems in hand in a different light and that set them up for success to thrive in new environments. There is an obsession to solve problems, remove obstacles and barriers. In fact one of the key reasons to begin their entrepreneurial journey is to solve a problem.

Pro Tip: Be dynamic, explore new territories and ‘approach problems as opportunities’

Rule#2: Stand out, be different

This one slightly contradicts with Rule #1 — nevertheless, the key lies in striking the balance. The ability to stand out is a game changer in a world that prioritises stereotypical choices. Resilient people choose to ‘stand out’ in order to find a solution. Mediocrity, comfort zones and playing along with the crowd is considered hugely detrimental to one’s success. They believe that it’s okay to make mistakes, where you reflect, learn from your failures and move on. 

The ability to stand out in other words can be described as ‘first mover advantage’ or ‘innovation’ — which is undoubtedly the core competitive advantage, regardless of one being a business or an individual.

Pro Tip: Be bold enough to overcome your fears and take well-calculated risks

Rule #3: Passion (choice) Vs. Perseverance (process)

Successful people do work that they love and deeply care about. So, commitment of course comes as a by-product of passion. They work both smarter and harder to demonstrate ability to take on more responsibility.

When one is passionate about a subject, they keep finding opportunities to learn and develop themselves further. As they progressed, they kept their focus on learning and continuously broadening their horizons and exposure. They believe in focusing on acquiring knowledge and expertise – success and money follows. The primary focus is on deriving value by using their strengths, talent and knowledge to benefit the world with their work, innovations, etc. rather than accumulating wealth and luxuries.

Persevering and not giving up makes a world of difference. When one achieved what seemed impossible, they begin to believe in themselves more and that positive mindset to face challenges emerges stronger.

Pro Tip: Be one step ahead. Work hard, be committed and deliver more than what is expected.

Rule #4: Power of responsibility

Success is in direct proportion to your ability to take on more responsibilities. When one starts their career the responsibility is purely on oneself with an individual focus. However, with growth, responsibility that one holds keep increasing from individual level to that of a team, company and so on. Higher the responsibility, higher up the position.

In a nutshell, being committed and delivering results beyond expectations will demonstrate one’s ability to take on more responsibilities.

Rule #5: Align actions with goals 

They have a clear ‘goals’ that they were working towards and took actions to support their ambitions in the long term. There was an emphasis on being more specific rather than vague. Setting goals and having the discipline to take action towards their goals. Most importantly they take control of their time.

A set of tools and work related productivity hacks are essential to achieve one’s goals. The most common one is time management and identifying the priorities in order to decide the tasks or areas that needs to be focused on.

They believe in taking control of their time and balance life to do things that they enjoy. 

Rule #6: Collaborate, build relationships 

Building relationships is something that leaders actively work towards. Being a good listener, aligning and interacting helps one to learn and absorb from the people around.

Leadership is about inspiring and motivating others – while at the same time surrounding themselves with smart people. It gives them great satisfaction to add value to people’s lives. They lead from both the mind and heart – with a mix of relaxed, intuitive leadership style within their teams. 

Rule #7: Self awareness, understanding your strengths 

Effective leadership is believed to start from the inside, where one is able to identify and harp on their strengths. It is believed that when one is able to lead themselves effectively, then they are able to understand and lead others more effectively. 

However, finding one’s forte requires a lot of ground work where it is necessary to put in the work to rise up above the confusion. It is important to spend time on reflections, by identifying your choices based on your skills/specialties. Then it’s just a matter of connecting the dots – your specialties with the demand in the market.

Concluding thoughts

Building resilience is somewhat mainstream in today’s context following the upsurge in COVID-19. However, the empire of success has always been built using resilience and collaboration as its cornerstone. 

The world as we knew is changing at a fast pace. However, there is a thing or two to learn from leading entrepreneurs as we reinvent and take action towards our goals in these uncertain times.

(The writer is a co-founder of Sparkwinn Research, a market research agency specialised in studying consumer and social issues in Sri Lanka. She can be contacted on