Last week, I had the pleasure of participating as a coach in a two and a half-day developing leaders workshop. Twenty-nine top talents from nine different countries joined forces to learn more about defining their leadership styles and were teamed up to take on a cross functional six month challenge - the results of which will help drive our company forward. I was extremely inspired by the energy, enthusiasm, and raw talent present in the room.
I wondered whom among these twenty-nine individuals would go on to become general managers or more, someday. There were many with the potential to do so, but potential and a dollar won't even buy a cup of Starbucks coffee these days, unfortunately.
Which begs the question - how does one uncork all the possibility inside and achieve a career that exceeds their wildest dreams?
One of my coachees asked me how I had achieved my position at a relatively young age and this article serves as a longer version of my explanation to her. Not that I have achieved anything near my dreams yet, but I have enjoyed some level of success and achieved some learnings I'm happy to pass forward.
I told this special young woman that I had only reached my current heights by getting extremely lucky. Her face wrinkled in confusion - luck? Yes, luck, I replied. But my definition of luck comes from the Roman philosopher Seneca who believed that we make our own luck by being prepared for opportunities.
In other words, luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.
I told her that I got to where I was by working exceptionally hard behind the scenes to be ready for the unknown opportunities ahead. I am constantly developing myself through on the job experience, coaching, reading and attending formal training programs to increase my abilities. I've gotten lucky by understanding my unique talents and investing significant time in developing and transforming them into reliable strengths. People always ask me how I pack so much activity into a single day, month, or year and I want to ask them in return, how do you not? At this point in my career, the process of success is basically embedded in my DNA.
To be successful you have to show up every day and ring the bell. Success doesn't just magically manifest - it is earned each time the spotlight shines on you and you rise to meet the challenge. To meet the challenge, you have to know and believe in yourself - and this knowledge of self is hard won because it requires you to embrace the good and the not so good things about yourself. It means being open to and receptive of feedback, especially constructive criticism - otherwise your Johari window stays closed to you forever. One of my marketing mentors once told me that we live from brand review to brand review and I guess I still don't take anything for granted in this what have you done for me lately world.
I likened my approach to the superstar athlete with tremendous talent who still outworks everyone else. Talent alone is far from enough to achieve everything you want to achieve in this life.
Talent can get you up some rungs of the ladder, but eventually you will find yourself among people as or more talented and then what will you do?
As I spoke, I saw the light bulb go off behind her eyes. It was dazzling, and I could almost hear all the new possibilities bubbling in her mind. The jury is still out, but needless to say I expect to see big things from her and from everyone present in the workshop.
In summary, having talent and potential matters for career success, but W.H.O. you are matters more. I created this concept after reading From Good to Great and internalizing the principle of First Who, Then What.
W = work ethic. Talent is nice, but how bad do you want to succeed? Are you willing to put in the hours outside of the regular job to get prepared for the future opportunities to come?
H = heart. I want to work with passionate people who know what they are good at and love what they do. You never have to question the level of quality of delivery from people who put their heart into their work and careers.
O = optimism. Or outlook. You can teach a lot of things, but attitude can't be taught. Someone who consistently sees opportunity in every difficulty is truly destined to succeed.
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