How would you describe a successful career? What would you say are the ingredients for true success?
In previous blog posts we have tried to define success in a holistic sense. (See posts How Would You Define Success? part 1, part 2 and part 3).

successBearing that in mind, I found the following explanation by Henry Cloud enormously helpful. We can boil it down to just 3 ingredients:

1. Technical ability.
Or another way of putting it is that you know your area of expertise exceedingly well. If you are a brain surgeon that means knowing a lot about how the brain works – neurology, neuroanatomy, neurotransmitters and the nervous system for starters. Or if you want to be a musician you have to know a lot about music and your instrument of specialisation or singing. You can’t fake those skills. You have to learn them and put in the hours to get there. You have to be very good at what you do. This has been the emphasis of most education the world over. The problem is that in our growingly complex world technical expertise is not enough. Taking the example of the brain surgeon, he or she needs a whole team around them that includes among others, nurses, an anaesthetist, administrators and cleaning staff. Or in the case of a musician, just being a great singer or player of an instrument does not guarantee you will get regular work – in some of the major cities of the world like London and New York the buskers on the subway or tube system can be phenomenally gifted and they appear to be begging for money!!

2. People skills.
Cloud describes this in terms of being an alliance builder. Another way of saying that is you have to take what you do well and build alliances with those who have the skills and resources that complement your own to form relationships that are mutually beneficial. In the past this has been confined to the area of good intentions. We just assume that if we are all well-meaning then everything will work out. However, good intentions in and of themselves are not enough.I learnt that the hard way as I worked in teams as a psychiatrist and a church leader. Many times I have been naive in my assessment of other people’s level of commitment or ability or motivation and been badly burnt. I just did not have the skills to bring the best out in people for a common goal. Some people naturally and intuitively (see Law of Intuition part 1 and part 2) have good people skills. Fortunately, for the rest of us these people skills can be learnt – another name for them are leadership skills (see blog post Why I Am So Passionate About Leadership).

Colin Powell puts it succinctly when he says, “Leadership is about getting more out of people than the science of management says you can.” However, even that is not enough. You can have fantastic technical ability and people skills, but they  can be harnessed to cause not great benefit, but great harm and injury to individuals and even society at large. Terrorist organisations and organised crime are examples of this.

3. Character.
It is possible to be very skilled technically and even very effective as a leader of others, but there is something about you as a person that gets in the way of progressing further. This is more than talent or ability, it has to do with who you are as a person. At its most basic level this includes being honest, ethical and trustworthy, but it goes further than that. John Maxwell talks about this in the Law of the Lid, the first of his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Here is how Cloud puts it:

“Who a person is will ultimately determine if their brains, talents, competencies, energy, efforts, deal-making abilities and opportunities will succeed.”

How do these character issues manifest themselves? Cloud’s description of 3 mains ways I have found illuminating in my own life and those who I have worked with. This applies to both the business and non-profit worlds:

  • Hitting a performance ceiling that is much lower than what one is capable of and passionate about achieving.
  • Hitting an obstacle or situation that takes them completely off-track.
  • Actually achieving great success only to self-destruct in some way and lose it all.

It is this third area of character that is so foundational to establishing on-going success in life and business. It certainly overlaps with attitude that we discussed in previous posts (see part 1,  part 2 of the importance of right attitude along with Principles governing attitude part 1  and part 2), but it is much more than that.

How does this simple template for career success resonate with you? What questions and comments does this raise for you?

It would be great to have your thoughts and ideas below.