Success comes with hard work, results and personal mastery

Perhaps like me you remember the old marketing piece for a famous business magazine that relayed the story of two men who went to work for the same company at the same time and over a lifetime of work one became the CEO and the other a low level department head. The premise of the advertising message is that applying what this particular publication taught made the difference. The advertisement goes on to say something to the affect that while one went to work for the company the other worked for himself.

Like the difference between a winning race, tennis match, or whatever event, the winner wins by the slightest of margins. The same holds true at work; the difference is not significant between those reaching the pinnacle of success and many not achieving high-level success, the difference is in how one manages him/herself. And if one has the slightest amount of introspection he/she will look back and wish they had done some things differently, hindsight, as the old saying goes, is 20/20.

There has been so much written about building a successful career by a never-ending cycle of self-improvement men and women. Rags-to-riches stories from some of the greatest business leaders achievers are so commonplace. Equally impressive are the host of academics, some of whom have never achieved in the free market what their philosophy espouse. I have never seen an article or book by a failure, written by that failure.

As a young manager I thought hard work was the way to become successful, later I learned that it its only a part of the success formula. I thought results alone were all that mattered, again incomplete. Granted, as a junior manager results are relatively easy to define and measure, however as one is promoted beyond unit, district or multi-unit level measurable performance results become more difficult to ascribe to a specific individuals personal contribution. That’s why the CEO of General Motors makes 21 million dollars a year all the while his company loses 11 billion dollars. Is there any way this could happen at unit or multi-unit level?

I submit, most CEO’s and senior level executives are not the smartest people in their company. Most have found compromise in all aspects of management and leadership and are more generalist than expert in any one particular area. Show me a senior level executive who believes he/she is the smartest and I will show you a soon to be failure. It is the understanding that ones knowledge is incomplete, which drives a successful senior level executive and for that matter a leader in any position. The awareness there are others who are smarter, or at least smarter in a particular area of the business, makes a good leader great.

This awareness drives successful managers to involve others and that my friend is one of the secrets of success, involvement. You will not be a successful manager if you feel the expectation to have all the answers and make every decision without consulting other people. There’s the story of the hotel owner that was preparing to undertake a multi million-dollar elevator project because of customer complaints about slow elevators. A new employees decided to ask the maids if they thought elevators were the problem and several told him the problem was that while people waited they had nothing to occupy their time and so elevators seemed slow. These women close to the problem suggested that the hotel first install mirrors around the elevators on each floor, that addition solved the problem. Generally speaking it has been my experience that people closest to the problem are the ones with the best solutions.

In the final analysis we’re not managing others, we’re managing ourselves. The popular adage a few years ago in leadership books was to think of yourself as “you incorporated” which speaks to the idea of personal mastery. Most communication is non-verbal (body language) therefore make sure non-verbal matches verbal communication. When what a manager says is not in sync with body language there is a “disconnect”, even though the listener my not be aware at the conscious level, any psychologist will tell you this is true. Keeping communication positive and making the personal decision to see the glass as half full rather than half empty is always a good idea. The manager who masters this gets the attention of decision-makers as opposed to the person who takes controversial positions and aligns him/herself to unpopular points of view.

Always look and act the part of a leader, never complain publicly, there is always competition for win, place and show. The old proverb; “I have oftentimes regretted my speech, but rarely my silence” is true. If you don’t believe me ask any manager over 40 and he/she will give you examples of how indiscretion came back to bite. It’s okay to listen to others, but resist the urge to contribute negatively and by all means make sure those in your inner circle are positive.

Don’t take yourself too seriously; make time for family, friends (outside work) and social activities. Learn to play golf and spend some of your time in self-development every day. It’s a good idea to join groups and organizations. Make friends outside your job, seek the council of those older and wiser who have nothing to gain or lose by your success. Although most of us make friends at work, many are really what are now popularly referred to as “friendenemies ” (remember the win, place and show comment).

Make the most out of every differentiating opportunity, take that relocation assignment, difficult task, or temporarily stepping back in order to be mentored by the right person early in your career can make a big difference. I once had a friend who took a position as an assistant to a senior level executive when others had no interest, that man today is one of the top five officers in his fortune 50 company, all because he saw potential in a position that everyone else discounted.

There is no silver bullet to success and there are many who can teach, but as one who has had success and also missed more than his fair share of opportunity I wish I had paid more attention to the science of success and considered that there is so much more than hard work and doing a great job in building a wonderful career.

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Comment by Mark Frank on November 26, 2008 at 6:27pm
Mae West, the famous silent movie actress said, “alcohol makes a good man better and a bad man worse”. She could have been speaking of power as well. From Pogo (sp), it has also been said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In reality, those in power positions and responsibility have an obligation to followers. Power is “granted”; an egomaniac uses positional power which makes people do what he/she wishes when he/she is present, however the lack of personal power creates an environment of avoidance, lower productivity avoidance carries with it less potential for penalty thus less risk taking; fear in the end is a terribly poor motivator. Egomaniacs are really little people screaming for attention.
Comment by Steve Paterson on November 26, 2008 at 1:54pm
Very nice Mark.
Thanks for posting.

One thing I'm curious about is ego.

Have you ever noticed that almost all great leaders also seem to have a large ego? Ironically, this ego remains well hidden during the upward journey, then seems to suddenly appear as if it was always there (and perhaps it was).

I'm not referring to Regional leaders like Andy, I'm talking more about the dishwasher who goes on to become CEO.

Any insight on this?
Comment by Andy Swingley on November 26, 2008 at 10:46am
Awesome post Mark, you got my attention as if speaking to me personally. I agree with you 100%. Introspection, seeking knowledge from others, and never taking yourself too seriously....definitely recipes for a successful professional journey.

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