We all know the role talent, knowledge, and experience play in getting hired and succeeding in any professional career. But little is known about what drives us to pursue long-term goals. Is it perseverance? Passion? Persistence? The great American psychologist, William James, wrote in the early 1900s:
Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental resources…men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only exceptional individuals push to their extremes of use.
Several studies by various university psychologists have shown that achievement is the product of talent and effort, which is a combination of intensity, direction, and duration of focus toward a goal. Follow-through is the purposeful, continuous commitment to a specific outcome; in fact, follow-through has been shown to be a very good predictor of significant accomplishment in science, art, sports, communications, and organization than other variables. After SAT scores, and high-school ranking, follow-through was the next best predictor of which students would graduate with honors.
In one study of 120 world-class pianists, neurologists, swimmers, chess players, mathematicians, and sculptors, each of the high achievers possessed three important characteristics
A strong interest in a particular field
A desire to reach a high level of attainment in that field
A willingness to put in great amounts of time and effort
What I Have Observed in My 25-plus-Year Career in Hiring Manager Positions for Fortune 500 Companies
Over the years as a hiring manager, I have taken notice of certain individuals I had a hand in hiring or managing who went on to enjoy highly successful careers for themselves. These people more often than not showed personal and professional initiative, a willingness to learn, displayed a flexible attitude toward projects, had great people skills, demonstrated excellent communication abilities, and possessed an ability to navigate successfully through organizational structures (and the politics that go with them).
I have categorized these abilities into six major qualities that each of these individuals possessed:
A sense of project ownership
A sense of project urgency
A sense of personal integrity
A desire to help others succeed
An attitude of being “self-employed”
A sense of the graceful exit
A Sense of Project Ownership. A sense of project ownership is prized by hiring managers everywhere because it conveys that an individual brings to the table a quality mindset, a get-it-done-right-the-first-time approach to whatever project is being undertaken. An individual with this attitude shows concern for budgets, schedules, and meeting customer requirements—whether that customer is the job foreman, the CEO, or the consumer in the marketplace. It is a forward-moving focus that can not help but pull in others in its wake. People who display a sense of project ownership are not clock-watchers—they often “call it a day” at some logical stopping point in their task, not when the clock says 5pm or when the whistle blows (union rules not withstanding).
A Sense of Project Urgency. A sense of project urgency implies that an individual’s approach to project work is immediate, purposeful, and resolute. Such determined individuals are decisive about which solution to a problem to embrace after a careful evaluation of the problem, the potential causes, and an assessment of all possible resolutions, and how those fixes should be implemented. Such folks rarely keep others waiting or guessing as to how to proceed next.
A Sense of Personal Integrity. Personal integrity is a quality that, when tarnished, is hard to return to its original luster. And when it is lost altogether, is very difficult to recover. A person’s integrity is wrapped up in their truthfulness about all matters, their honesty in dealing with people and projects, and their reliability to honor their word. Personal integrity is not a badge people wear on the outside, but it is more a reflection of the deeper nature of their character and moral, ethical fiber.
A Desire to Help Others Succeed. Many years ago early in my career, I heard some great advice from author and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar: “If you help enough people get what they want, you’ll eventually get what you want.” That philosophy works best when it is a conscious heart-felt decision to help others first and not seen from the flip-side perspective: “To get what I want, I need to help others get what they want first.” It is embracing a servant attitude that is so often lacking in the business world today. Imagine if Wall Street investment bankers, mortgage brokers, and auto company CEOs, and movers and shakers in Washington, D.C. had just made it their daily mantra: “how can I best serve your needs today?” we would not have high underemployment, lost retirements, exploding health care costs, and an economy struggling to find any sense of consistency.
An Attitude of Being Self-Employed. Truly successful individuals always understand that no matter where the paycheck comes from, they really do work for themselves. Besides the skills, knowledge, and experience they bring to any job, project, or task, it is also the sense of project ownership, sense of project urgency, personal integrity, and helping others succeed that makes them “self-employed.” Contractors and consultants know what being self-employed is all about but sometimes people in hourly or salaried positions lose sight of the fact that they are self-employed as well. No one keeps anyone on the payroll out of the goodness of their hearts; it is the application of all those qualities mentioned in the previous paragraphs that keep the paychecks coming on a regular basis.
A Sense of the Graceful Exit. In many industries (particularly the high-tech field), people often end up working together again at different companies, or end up managing former peers. Not only is it a smart career move to not burn bridges when you leave one company for another, it’s just plain courteous. Your reputation will continue to linger in the hallways and cubicle neighborhood for some time after you leave, so how would the odor of burning bridges enhance your character in the minds of those you worked with?
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My name is Donn LeVie Jr. and I’m a former hiring manager for Fortune 500 companies (Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corporation, and others) and have worked in the federal government (NOAA) and in academia as an adjunct faculty lecturer in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics for the University of Houston (Downtown Campus). I am the author of Strategic Career Engagement(September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies: Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers). I lead career strategy seminars at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. military veterans organizations.
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