The Three Rules for Continual Success
Becoming a successful employee or leader is not always as straight forward as it seems. The vast majority of us strive to be successful, but we don't always take the time to ponder the elements that consistently drive success and progress. In the more complex world of hybrid work and new norms, it is more important than ever to ensure there is clarity on the elements and behaviors that will give you the best chance to achieve your goals.
I have had the pleasure to manage, coach, mentor and lead several hundred individuals in the 22 years of my career to date. Every one of those individuals were ambitious enough to want to understand how to be successful in their respective careers. I have fielded questions over the years such as "Why did that person get promoted instead of that individual?" or versions on that theme. As I reflect on these conversations and the decisions I have had to make, I am convinced that there are three consistent factors that I believe play into the "success trajectory" for all of us, whether we are conscious about them or not:
E = Effort
While I am a super strong believer in the value of teamwork and the fact that nothing in this world is achieved by an individual working alone, it is important for us all to acknowledge that the workplace is a competitive environment, especially when it comes to progress and promotion. It is never good for the focus on competition to be so strong that it leads to back-stabbing and destructive behaviors, but it is also naïve to think that when there is one, relatively rare, promotion opportunity and five potential internal candidates, that it is not a competitive situation.
"Working hard becomes a habit, a serious kind of fun. You get self-satisfaction from pushing your self to the limit, knowing that all the effort is going to pay off." - Mary Lou Retton
So, if we acknowledge that there will likely be a healthily competitive scenario down the road on your career path, the question that should be on your mind is: "How do I win that competition?" There is always a sliver of possibility that you were born with so much God-given talent compared to your peers, that you will naturally rise to the top of the pool and move onwards and upwards, like an albatross catching a warm thermal current and never flapping her wings! If, however, you are like the remaining 99.9% of us all, it will likely come down to effort. The topic of work ethic or effort has somehow become somewhat of a taboo subject in recent times, but I think we ignore it at our peril.
“All roads that lead to success have to pass through hard work boulevard at some point.” ― Eric Thomas
Importantly, increasing levels of effort, does not necessarily equate to old concepts of 60-80 hour work weeks (these can often be very counter-productive in your overall effectiveness), it also does not mean staying later than you boss to illustrate your commitment. Effort means being "all-in to win" on the task in front of you. It means being willing to flex up the focused time you put in to achieve your goal, if the situation calls for that. It may mean putting more conscious time into planning your week so that your hard work is more efficient. Ultimately, you typically know in your heart-of-hearts if you are putting the required effort into deliver on the mission at hand. If you are unsure if your effort level is making you competitive, ask your boss this question directly....and ask it NOW....not after a career-critical decision has been made!
R = Results
This may seem like an overly-obvious driver of success as you read this, but I would argue that too few leaders spend enough time truly focused on results delivery. In fact, one common mistake is that individuals believe that focusing all of the energy on the effort called out above will be sufficient to muscle their way to success. It simply does not work like that. The more you work through your career and progress to higher levels, the more focus shifts to your results and the impact you and your team had on them. It is easy to get overwhelmed with scorecards and the myriads of red and green that are displayed in review meetings. However, it is important to focus in on the steps below to ensure you maximize your results delivery impact and thus your personal probability of success:
Identify the ONE result that will have the biggest impact on the success of the overall organization. This needs to be something that you are in a position to lead or influence and help drive in the right direction.
Manage the Metric (more on this in a coming blog). Define how it will be measured, if not already established. Get everyone clear on the baseline/starting point. Set out a stretching but realistic glide path that senior leaders would be genuinely satisfied with, if delivered (confirm this with them up front). Communicate, communicate, communicate. No one above, below or beside you in the organization should be surprised about this priority and the monthly and annual target.
Do everything in your power to meet or beat the target you have set. This is where effort will play in. It is also where influencing others becomes a critical skill. You will find that if you are passionate about delivering this particular result, you will have more support from all around you than you imagine.....passion and determination are magnetic forces in an organization!
Celebrate. Do this for the small milestones along the way and of course when you hit the number at the end of the year or break the record during the year. Praise everyone around you who contributed. This may sometimes feel like blowing your own trumpet, but doing this in a respectful and moderately humble way is going to be critical to your success. Everyone around you wants to be part of a winning team....help them feel like winners.
H = Help
To be continually successful, you need to think about Help in two important and distinct ways. The first is that you need to be able to accept help. I see plenty of ambitious, hard working leaders that feel like they need to do it all themselves. They hear the suggestion of leveraging other's skills or experiences as an indication of weakness or failure on their behalf. I have seen leaders point blank refuse aid that is being served up on a plate for them by their senior leaders, even when they are struggling to deliver the necessary results. This can be very frustrating for those that are trying to show support and ultimately want the best for the organization. It certainly can limit one's acceleration down the career growth path. It is very unlikely that you alone are equipped to solve every facet of the challenge you have in front of you. So, when you hear others offering or suggesting you take on some help, be humble enough to accept it, even embrace it.....it will benefit you in more ways that you initially imagine.
The second way Help is going to enable you to succeed is related to how you Help others. This may be counterintuitive to the concept of competition called out above. However, as your leaders observe you, they are looking to see if you are thinking "big picture" for the entire organization for the long haul. This will often require you to step out of your box and help others. They are looking to see if you are helping people below you on your team to develop and grow. A sure sign that you are ready for the next level is when you have created a team below you that won't miss a beat when you move on, something many people fail to grasp. Helping others is also a sign of capacity. To move on to bigger and better things, you need to illustrate that you can do your current 'day job' and more. Taking the time to help others be successful is a strong signal of incremental capacity. Beyond all of these points, leaders that are considering you for a future role typically want someone on their team who is helpful to others, a good team player and a good person overall. Helping others is a simple way to illustrate this for everyone who is paying attention!!