Friday, February 3, 2017

This One Trait Sets Successful People Apart

There are countless books, articles, blogs and seminars dedicated to the traits, qualities or skills needed to be a success. This goes for success in life, sport, business, relationship, and any other arena I might be missing.

Most of what you will hear has to do with qualities such as talent, teachability, trustworthiness, transparency, accountability, communication, vulnerability, humility, good listening, asking great questions, etc. Personally, I love that stuff! I can’t get enough of it, and I appreciate so much those who have dedicated the time and energy to offer their insights on each of these.


Even if one possesses all of the above qualities in abundance, there is one thing that will set a truly successful person apart. That is, they notice things others do not. They have an awareness of themselves, of others, of what is happening around them and right in front of them, giving them the ability to draw lessons from daily life and apply them on the fly.


Scott Williams of Wright University has a good, succinct article about self-awareness on the WU website. He talks about a person’s awareness of the personality, values, needs and habits, how this awareness will make one more effective, and how to practice this skill to become a better leader or manager. But awareness of self is just the first step.


The very best at this know how to read between the lines of what others say. They read body language, facial expressions and tones of voice. How are they able to do this? They very intentionally practice it. They listen more than they speak. They ask questions and then pay attention to the answers. They see and hear things that others do not. As a result, they have insights and understandings that elude others, giving them the edge.


This one is huge. We all react and respond differently to different input or stimuli. Our environment is the provider of these things. People who are calm and cool under fire do have the ability to get rattled and confounded from time to time. People with wonderful judgement can blow the call now and again. Most of the time it is because we know ourselves and the people we are around, but something in the world around us is different or out of step with the norm. This could be a momentary step away from normalcy, or it could be the result of a culture shift.

I once led a team that experienced great success in reaching out to teenagers with a message of hope and challenge. One day, in our team meeting, I said, “We need to think about what’s next. What we have been doing has a shelf-life of about 4 years, and we are at the end of year 3. Teenage culture changes too fast for us to keep this up much longer, so we need to get ahead of the demand for a change by beginning to understand now what is going to make us successful 2 years from today, rather than 2 weeks from today.”

Because we had a team that well knew themselves, the people they were working with and for, and the culture they were in, they embraced this challenge and we began to make a shift that set us up for long term success.

But it would not have happened by skill, honesty, vulnerability, transparency, etc. alone. Awareness is the thing that gave us, and will give you the edge.

If you want to dive deeper into this, let me suggest two resources. First is Tom Rath's, Strengths Finder. This will help you discover your own strengths and explore the relevance of that discovery. It will also help you be able to recognize the strengths of others, and what that means for how you relate to them in whatever relationship you share.

Second is John Kotter's, Leading Change. It is amazing how much easier it is to recognize the need to change when you know how to lead yourself and others through it.

Be encouraged!

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