It’s unfashionable to ascribe success to talent. Hard work is a much more acceptable explanation in a meritocratic society.
The truth, of course, is that some measure of both is required to achieve excellence. On its own, Edison’s 99% perspiration would have produced exactly as many light bulbs as his 1% inspiration – zero.
If they're humble, successful people will credit luck too (how many 19th century polymaths does it take to invent the light bulb, when they all just fell down a well?), but that’s not exactly a quality we can aspire to.
The emphasis should perhaps fall on attitude. Whoever succeeded in business, sports, politics or any other field without having such basic qualities as drive, ambition or resilience? Attitude influences how we react to good or bad fortune, how hard we push ourselves, how skilled we become.
So what is a winning attitude? In an effort to nail down exactly what qualities successful people have in common, Dr Amanda Potter of Zircon consulting interviewed 42 of them, from Ann Summers CEO Jacqueline Gold to Rugby legend Sir Clive Woodward.
She found they all had at least some of the following qualities. How many do you have?
1. Burning ambition
You want that promotion, the lead on that exciting project, to make a success of your own business. So does everyone else. The big question is how much you want it. Winners thirst for success, and are prepared to give more, sacrifice more and do what others wouldn’t to achieve it.
2. Dogged Determination
Successful people see things through. When they fall – which at some point everyone does - they dust themselves off and try again. ‘Mental resilience through adversity is a key element to a winning attitude, dealing with uncertainty and thriving under pressure,’ says Potter.
3. Unwavering Belief
The relentless pursuit of excellence requires serious self-belief, but this isn’t to be confused with arrogance or entitlement. Instead, winners take encouragement from their successes while identifying and working on areas to improve.
4. Realistic Optimism
You need belief to reach for the stars, but you’ll never get there without a degree of realism. That said, successful people tend to remain upbeat, frequently turning negatives into positives and thereby avoiding becoming demoralised.
As a result of this combination, ‘these individuals are comfortable with risk and are willing to take calculated risks in order to survive, achieve and succeed,’ Potter adds.
5. Mutual respect
Despite the size of some executive pay cheques, most achievements in business are the result of a team effort. If you can’t work with and get the most out of other people, you won’t get far. Successful people demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence, persuasiveness and tolerance of others.
6. Maximising opportunities
When a chance comes along, do you take it? High fliers grasp opportunities with both hands – though not without carefully considering the consequences.
7. Disruptive thought
Coasting is surely the route to mediocrity. Winners aren’t afraid of change. They challenge the way things are done and look for ways of doing things differently. An innovative mind and the ability to step back and see the big picture are a must.
8. Constant curiosity
Self-improvement is about more than just practice. The pursuit of perfection also involves a hunger for knowledge. Successful people want to understand everything about their chosen field (and often other fields too), in order to master it.
9. Intrinsic Generosity
‘A striking and surprising finding was the extent to which our winners are generous and put others first,’ says Potter. ‘They spend time and money to care for colleagues, family members and teammates.’
The result? Kind leaders get more out of their teams and networks . ‘They trust these people implicitly, look to them for support and advice and are happy to ask for feedback and decision making support.’
10. Single minded focus
Ambition and innovative thinking are often derailed by a lack of focus. Successful people have no time for such distractions. They also display great attention to detail, methodically breaking their larger tasks down so they can have simple, clear daily goals.
Are these the ingredients of success? Perhaps that depends on how you define success or winning. But if you’re looking to reach the pinnacle of your chosen career, they’re a pretty good start.
Image credit: Pavel Novak/Wikipedia