People define success differently. For some, success means having achieved financial security or career pinnacles. Some people judge their success by the positive impact they have made on others whether these are clients, students, associates, or family. Other successful people have acquired a level of expertise that is recognized and respected by peers. But despite these differing definitions of what constitutes success, successful people themselves have similar characteristics.
- First, they are self-confident without being arrogant. This comes from being self-aware: knowing one's strengths and weaknesses, knowing one’s goals and remaining true to one’s values and capabilities.
- Second, they are willing to grow by challenging their limits of knowledge and experience.
- And third, they are willing to reflect and learn from experience.
Webster's Dictionary defines a sage as one who is wise through reflection and experience. In ancient cultures, a group’s sages were those who had experienced rich lives and were thoughtful about what they had learned through these experiences.
In contemporary times, groundbreaking research by the Center for Creative Leadership in the late 1980s found that successful executives were those who had benefited from the “lessons of experience.”
So from these common traits of successful people, those striving for success can seek to practice three fundamental steps to self-development.
Self-development Step: Know Thyself
This is the most basic tenet of psychology, self-improvement, and emotional intelligence. If you think you need to get to know yourself better, try these basics.
- Solicit Feedback Regularly: Perception is reality. Seek to understand how people perceive you. You may not be achieving the impact you expected in leading or working with others. You can not adjust your approach without the benefit of feedback that can inform you in terms of how your intentions were received by others. Be proactive in finding out what people think about you and your style of interacting and your approach. Be open to and appreciative of the feedback you receive, not defensive. Seek to understand rather than to be understood.
Reflect on Performance: Some successful people are gregarious and extroverted while others are reserved and introverted. But all successful people know how to spend time alone being reflective and thoughtful about recent performance and behavior. Take time every day to reflect on the day’s work and interactions.
Always take ample time at the conclusion of major elements of work to reflect on the quality of what you produced and the effectiveness of your work with others. The key to reflecting on performance is remaining balanced in your self-assessment. Be self-critical: understand what you could have done better and learn from these mistakes. But also acknowledge success whenever warranted: celebrate and take pride in what you have done well.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses: As you collect feedback and reflections, come to understand your personal strengths and weaknesses. Know that everyone has both. Successful people build success from their strengths while they limit the negative impact of their weaknesses. The reason to identify your key strengths and weaknesses is not so that you can improve your weaknesses. It is much more important to identify your key strengths and leverage these.
The management guru, Peter Drucker, in his classic article, “Managing Oneself” , states: “One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from in-competence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. And yet most people . . . concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones. Energy, resources, and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer.”
- Know Your Joys and Passions: Be in tune to your emotions as you engage in your work. We all need to do elements of work that are tedious or displeasing, but the bulk of how you spend your day should satisfy you and make you feel good about your contributions and the impact of your efforts. Success is difficult to achieve without that level of satisfaction. Know that people who excel enjoy what they do and do what they enjoy.
**Susan McKeone, founder of Sage Management Consulting, consults world-wide in all aspects of developing and deploying talent since 1998. She designs and implements integrated HR systems that leverage human capital: talent management and career development systems. She has specific expertise in leadership dynamics and building leadership capability. Susan holds a Master of Science in Organizational Psychology from Villanova University where she was a Dean's Scholar.
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