While the exact formula for what makes someone successful in work over a period of time is still cloudy, the outlines through research are taking shape. Those outlines can begin to inform who you hire, who you work with, and – if you’re prone to introspection – what your own personal profile looks like.
These trends and factors didn’t just pop-up today: in some cases, as in the importance of emotional intelligence, they’ve been building for decades as the old control and command models of management gave way to greater teamwork and collaboration norms.
All of this emerging research is bad news for many test makers and test givers who claim that their tests will separate the “will succeed” from the “will fail”. Psychological tests at best measure the heartbeat, but not the heart.
And it turns out it’s the heart as well as the heartbeat that informs longer-term success.
What’s the good news?
Many, though not all, of the elements in being successful, can be acquired and developed. Parents who raised you in a certain way, supervisors and mentors who motivated you in certain ways, and effective coaching – people like me – can help you learn and behave in ways that will make you more effective and successful.
What’s the bad news?
Some of being successful is luck: right place, right time sort of thing. And while you can be coached to leverage your opportunities, some things are simply chance. One thought, to crib a line from Ann Richards about baseball and Bush 43: it helps to know if you were borne on third base rather than growing up thinking you always hit triples.
So what do we know about success?
Malcolm Gladwell’s work in Outliers s howed that success in part is a product of timing . Like the mantra in the restaurant, real estate, and retail (location, location, location), part of success is simply a matter of where your are or when you were borne. Like people who were early hires at Microsoft or Google (and retired off lucrative stock options grants), it helps to be good but it also helps to be lucky. And while good coaching won’t help with timing, it can provide a reality check for those entering fields that are crowded and more competitive.
Carol Dweck’s research into “growth mindsets” versus “fixed mindset” tells us that people who succeed long term are people who avoid resting on their laurels, but have a mindset that talent is about trying to do better, and learning how to do it. This growth mindset assumes that talent can be learned – while there are differences in optimization – you’re not born with all you have. Talent and its underpinnings of skills and abilities can be grown, nurtured and developed. And growth mindsets tend to inspire more enduring self-confidence, a key factor cited by research from the Five O’Clock Club as critical to career success.
Along with Dweck’s work, as a narrower subset is research into resilience and recovery: the ability bounce back after setbacks. University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Duckworth’s “Grit Study ” is one such undertaking that will likely look at the connection between resilience and performance . Grit and resilience in part are factors in how people anticipate and respond to change, a key in our rapidly changing world.
From Daniel Goleman’s work (and Gladwell’s, too) we know that EQ – social intelligence – is as important as IQ. While Gladwell talks in terms of “practical skills” the issue is the same: how do you work effectively interpersonally or through team and organizations. Having high EQ skills in the today’s (and tomorrows) business environment is critical. In a networked world, people who can work through networks – and have friends and work relationships that are vibrant – will be advantaged.
Dan Pink’s work from A Whole New Mind tells us that creativity , along with analytical skills, will make or break the ability of people to have successful careers in a world where many things that can be proceduralized and regimented will either be outsourced to lower cost countries or computerized. And creativity, like a number of the other longer term attributes listed, can be improved by training and coaching.
Cut to Chase
Long-term success will go to those that have developed through effective coaching, or were fortunate to have parents, mentors and supervisors who helped developing them along the way.
Turns out that long-term success is not just about you – it’s what you do with yourself.
Coaching Tips is an occasional set of writings taken from observations and success from over 25 years of coaching individuals and teams to better, more durable performance. More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above