Self-Knowledge: Listen to your Heart
It’s such a basic idea—a centerpiece of success: You can’t go through life thinking that the tide will just move you along and take you where you want to be. You have to swim there.
Here’s where Kitty Pilgrim’s advice is relevant. Instead of waiting for the ax to fall, and praying that it doesn’t, ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in five years?” Then start moving toward your goal. Take practical steps every day. Figure out what you need. Maybe it’s more training, or a broader network of colleagues and friends, or a mentor. Whatever your specific needs, be proactive.
Vision: Plant your Dreams on Solid Ground
Vision as a quality of success isn’t just for world leaders. It can be found and cultivated in your own backyard. Vision is more than rhetoric; it’s deeper than charisma. It is the quality that enables you to be creative, passionate, inspired, and productive. With one eye on the future, it keeps you grounded in the practical actions of the present.
During the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination, some people ridiculed Barack Obama over a story that he supposedly started planning to run for president when he was in kindergarten. While kindergartners don’t engage in that kind of long-term thinking, it’s obvious that Obama had a vision for his life from a young age. Ignoring the difficult circumstances of his upbringing, he looked ahead and plotted a course to get where he wanted to be. We can all do that.
Initiative: Keep Rattling the Cage
Some question you and some who want to see you fail. That’s just a fact of life. Sometimes, when you’re in the public eye, people forget that you’re human and that you’re trying to do your job, just like everyone else. Being first on the scene requires initiative and stamina.
You have to learn to take the hits and rise above them. If you do a good job, the conflict will eventually disappear. Remember taking the initiative is always a risk. You are sticking your neck out for sure. You risk being laughed at, being ridiculed, or, worse, being wrong. But if you believe in what you are doing and are trying to do the right thing in every instance, you will ultimately win.
Courage: Be Bold, Smart, and Fair
Jeff Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric, has faced some harrowing times since he took the reins from Jack Welch in 2001. But what he has consistently said is that the company’s setbacks are not just bad news: they’re lessons.
Jeff believes that operating during very tough times can be an opportunity to push the reset button. “It is impossible to explain to people how tough it was to lead GE in September 2008, when Lehman declared bankruptcy, the government saved AIG, and there was one crisis after another,” he said when we talked about it. “But,” he added, “if it weren’t for the crisis there would never have been the reset—the course correction that enabled us to move in a positive direction.”
Integrity: Do the Right Thing
Integrity isn’t just about not doing wrong. It’s about doing the right thing: How you take care of your people. What you give back to the community. The example you set by how you live your life and how you live in an organization.
Integrity doesn’t necessarily protect you from failure, but it gives you the upper hand. People are attracted to integrity and want to work alongside those they trust. Charles Schwab’s guiding principle during his entire business career has been honesty. “Clients will pay you money even when things are bad, as long as you tell them the truth.” It’s something he has always believed, a lesson in integrity he learned at his father’s knee.
Adaptability: Stay Open to Change
Entire businesses (and even industries) can fall victim to nostalgia paralysis, as was the case with Kodak.
When Antonio Perez took the helm in 2003, Kodak was struggling to find its footing. “We made our living creating and selling film,” he said. “But when I went around the company and asked, ‘How many of you have a digital camera in your household?’ there were thirty percent of them in the beginning, then forty percent, then fifty percent, then sixty percent. So I told them: ‘This is the deal. We either change, or we will cease to exist.’
Antonio Perez didn’t feel he had a choice about going digital. It was a question of survival. Eventually, those who resisted most strenuously had to make a choice about whether they would stay with the team. But Perez also knew that had the company not gone digital, there would be no team to stay with.
Humility: Hold on to your Humanity
Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jack Welch success stories have one thing in common: a respect for their place in the world, an appreciation of where they came from, and an understanding that success can be attributed to many things, not the least of which is luck. Warren Buffett has often said that all of his talent and skill in making investments would have been meaningless had he not been born in the United States, where he had an opportunity to put it into practice. In his eyes the greatest secret to his success was the luck of his birth in the land of opportunity.
Humility can be a hard quality for some people to grasp. We live in a culture where it isn’t especially valued. We encourage people to present themselves forcefully, to brand themselves, market themselves, put a shine on their abilities, to never admit they made mistakes. We often confuse humility with a lack of self-confidence and view it as the antithesis of power. But humility is one of the most powerful weapons in business and personal life.
Endurance: Build your Stamina
People look around, and they notice that the most successful people don’t seem to have much balance in their lives. They’re always running at full speed. Young people trying to advance in their careers notice that the early birds and the late birds get the worms, and they strive to do both.
Jack Welch, a famous workaholic, said many times that balance was for the birds. “Balance is a bad word,” he agreed, “but you may have misunderstood my point. It’s not so much about balance as it is about setting priorities. For example, there wasn’t an August during my career that I didn’t take a vacation and play golf for thirty straight days. There wasn’t a winter that I didn’t take my kids skiing. Sometimes my job was my priority; sometimes my family was my priority. When I was working, I threw myself into it one hundred percent. When I was skiing with my kids, I threw myself into it one hundred percent.”
Purpose: Know what Matters Most
Finding and embracing the core purpose of your life will protect you during the adversities. Your purpose is that which does not waver with hardship. It is not based on what you have, what others think of you, or whether you succeed or fail from day to day.
Victor Frankl, the noted Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, once described a person with purpose as one who “knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’”
Resilience: Get up and Move On
Resilience is the opposite of being a victim. It means taking control of your own fate and participating in the outcome. Resilience is the ability to see possibility in the face of catastrophe, to say, “You know what? This setback is only a blip in the scheme of things. I’ll learn something from it and go on.”
Everything in life is temporary. One day you’re a pro, the next day you’re a caddy, and the next day you are a pro again. It’s easy to get so engulfed in your career, and to think it’s so big, so enormous, that you can’t survive without it. If you lose your job, it’s traumatic, but that’s temporary too. The good times may not last forever, but neither do the bad times.