I’m biased a bit on this career acceleration issue because I hang out with people highly motivated to move fast and advance upward in their working lives. They seek me out for coaching and mentoring, and they work hard at bringing ideas to life inside their organizations. Importantly, they are motivated to do their best in helping their firms while strengthening their cases for promotion and expanded responsibilities.

Success Isn’t a Simple Recipe, But There are Common Ingredients

While there’s no one-formula-fits-all recipe for career success, there are common ingredients in the form of behaviors and skills. Here are the base ingredients I see most often, albeit in different proportions. Your challenge is to cultivate the needed skills and bring them to life in portions that fit your abilities and your firm’s culture and needs.

Six Skills Essential for Career Success:

1. Gray-Zone Leadership

Gray-Zone leaders are individuals adept at building coalitions to solve vexing problems that often lurk between functional groups. The issues are important, but no one owns them.

Gray-Zone leaders identify those items critical to a firm’s or unit’s success and leverage their influence to bring the right expertise to the situation. When successful, they dispense credit liberally, further enhancing their influence and growing their visibility to an organization’s senior leaders.

Check out: Leading and Succeeding in the Gray-Zone

2. Power Listening

“You’ll go as far as you can communicate,” was the guidance I received from an early career mentor. He was right, yet of all the communication skills you might develop, listening is the most important.

Great listeners convey respect—the critical ingredient for trust—and get to core fears, aspirations (FANs) in their communication exchanges. Effectively, power listeners gain an advantage over everyone else because they can tune-in and co-design approaches that meet the real interests of their counterparts.

Check out: It’s Time to Develop Your Listening Muscle

3. Control in Challenging Communication Situations

Everything important in our work (and personal) lives takes place via one or more challenging conversations. Learning to maintain control and avoid the fight or flight responses positions the individual as calm, collected, and frankly as a leader under pressure. However, success in challenging communication situations demands you overwrite your brain’s natural programming. It’s doable, but it takes practice and discipline.

Check out: A Workplace Communication Fable with Three Great Lessons

4. Political Sense

While many decry the presence of politics in our organizations, in reality, everywhere, humans gather and organize a political environment emerges. Those with power decide what gets done and who does what. Successful career climbers come to grips with their need to assess and engage in their organization’s political environment. The most successful in my experience focus on cultivating what I term: clean power, by cultivating influence.

Check out: The Noble Pursuit of Power and Influence

5. Self Confidence

The single limiting factor I observe in those who under-succeed is a lack of belief in their abilities.
If I had the proverbial magic wand, I would wield it liberally to imbue great people with just enough self-confidence to know they can and must wade into challenging situations and survive and thrive.

Check out: 9 Ideas for Strengthening Your Self-Esteem

6. Altitude Control—Forest and Trees

Most individuals view their situations at ground level, focused on the proverbial trees and the next step in front of them. The most successful professionals I work with are good at adjusting their altitude. They connect the big picture of their markets, industries, and customers to the ground level activities inside their organizations, in pursuit of results.

Check out: Learning to Adjust Your Altitude

The Bottom-Line for Now

There’s a lot that goes into success, including hard work, a willingness to learn and adapt on the run. If you have to focus your hard work and energy for learning somewhere, focus on the above items. And don’t forget the coach or mentor. Few of us succeed alone.

Art's Signature