Last year, I started this series because it occurred to me that so many people are searching for the proverbial “secret to success”, believing it to be some elusive, closely-guarded silver bullet. I did some research and discovered that it’s not a secret at all. In fact, there are common traits that many successful people share, and the combined effect of those traits is what makes them successful. I decided to go over a few of these traits in this series.
Why the title? Because “just being yourself” isn’t good enough. To reach the top, your average, everyday performance might not cut it. Don’t get me wrong here: Authenticity remains important. You’ve just got to put your best foot forward, or as I put it in the previous installment, become your best self.
This boils down to the concept of execution. Successful people execute effectively in their day-to-day lives, and the cumulative effect of those daily executions puts them leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Today, we’ll discuss a few key ways they do this.
It all starts with self-awareness. One who lacks an awareness of themselves will struggle to achieve at a high level. The first commandment of success: Know Thyself.
Strength over Weakness
Any goal worth achieving is practically guaranteed to be difficult. The path to success, then, is an uphill climb. The most natural way to conquer that mountain is to choose a path that you are uniquely suited to take. Stick to your strengths.
If you take only one thing away from this discussion, it should be this: Spend as little time as possible improving your weaknesses. Instead, obsess over improving your strengths.
Sure, it’s sometimes necessary to improve your weaknesses, but the key here is not to overdo it. Improve your weaknesses just enough so that they don’t derail your success, then stop. Better yet: Stretch your network and build a team that supports you in your weak areas. Then you get the best of both worlds.
Every moment spent improving your weaknesses above the absolute bare minimum is wasted time. Why? Opportunity cost. An hour spent improving an acceptable weakness is an hour that could (and should) have been invested towards honing a strength:
In return for spending one difficult hour improving a weakness, you could possibly raise your skill level from poor to mediocre. On the other hand, in return for spending one comfortable hour sharpening a strength, you can raise your skill level from above average to exceptional.
It’s better to be average with an exceptional specialty than average with an improved weakness.
Trait: Successful people focus on their strengths.
Identify & Act
This is easier than ever today. There are a number of Leadership/Personality assessments available online, many of them for free. I recommend that everyone take Myers-Briggs and DISC at a minimum.
Different assessments reveal different aspects of your personality and behavior. Take 2 or 3 different tests, answering the questions honestly and without rushing. This composite image of your individuality will be more complete than any one assessment alone.
Share your profiles with close friends and relatives, especially if you disagree with the results.
Ask for candid feedback on the accuracy of your profile, even if the feedback could be painful. You may be surprised – these tests can be quite revealing, uncovering facets of your personality that you never would have noticed otherwise. Oftentimes, these are things that those around you first noticed long ago.
Once you understand your Strengths, it’s time to take action. As you pursue your goals, tailor your action plan to your strengths. For Example:
- If organization is not your strength, don’t force yourself to create a day-by-day 18-month timeline to accomplish a big goal. Instead, brainstorming a few random ideas (eg. Things I can do this month to get closer to my goal) and later refining them into simple, defined, goal-oriented tasks may yield more progress.
- Let’s say that you want to refine a skill, and discover from an assessment that you excel at visual learning but are easily bored with long, mundane tasks. Don’t bother reading a 250-page book on how to improve, just watch a few 5-minute YouTube videos on the topic instead.
The point here is to take this newfound understanding of your own tendencies and use it strategically to find the path of least resistance to success.
Trait: Successful people use tools to identify their strengths, and leverage the knowledge they gain.
So the second installation of this series is all about self-awareness: Know Thyself.
Invest serious time and energy into understanding your strengths, weaknesses, preferences and tendencies. Use that knowledge to focus your efforts towards areas in which you have natural strengths.
The results might just amaze you.