How to Achieve Success in 8 Steps

If you are smart but frustrated with your career progress, then you are not alone! Others view me as “book smart” because I graduated second in my high school class, first in my college class, and I have a PhD in chemical engineering. But I interviewed for many jobs I didn’t get and I got demoted over the course of my corporate career. Luckily, I learned from these career setbacks that intellectual prowess is not enough to achieve career goals. In fact, studies show that IQ which measures intelligence based on “book smarts” predicts less than 25% of success. Career success, it turns out, takes the right kind of learning and behavior. This post walks through 5 steps to learning for success and 3 steps to behaving for success.

5 Steps to Learning for Success

Step 1: Find Purpose

Learning for success starts with a topic or skill that is meaningful to you and matters to others. While I started my career with degrees in chemical engineering, I learned that my passion lied in working with others to achieve challenging and important goals. In fact, my purpose today is igniting the power of human connection. Your purpose is an abstraction of what you are good at doing and enables you to find new ways to improve on what you do well. There are many different ways to discover your purpose (Chapter 2 in When Bad Teams Happen to Good People: Your Complete Repair Guide for Successful Teamwork by Valerie Patrick, NYC, NY: Career Press, 2021). But keep in mind that you need to invest in self-discovery to better understand your sources of work motivation and meaning as input to a purpose exercise. Learning for success starts with identifying and articulating your purpose.

Step 2: Picture Excellence

The second step to learning for success is developing a mental representation of what excellence looks like in pursuit of your purpose. In work meetings, I used to jot notes in the margins of my notebooks about ways the meeting leader got me engaged and enabled helpful input by me and others in the meeting. I was mesmerized by studying the techniques of leaders, trainers, and speakers to see what worked and what didn’t work to inspire meaningful engagement and action. Envisioning what success looks like takes observing other experts or practitioners relevant to your purpose to uncover what makes them succeed.

Step 3: Plan

The third step to learning for success is developing a step-by-step learning strategy to achieve your career goal. My career goal was to lead others so my first step was joining Toastmasters to get more comfortable with public speaking as I was very shy. Next, I sought out team leadership opportunities and used books on teamwork to guide me in my early team efforts. I also recruited mentors to advise and coach me on leading others. Finally, I took advantage of many training opportunities relevant to leadership and in 2013 got certified as a professional facilitator through the International Association of Facilitators. Your step-by-step learning plan comes from working backwards from your goal to identify the specific knowledge, experiences, and credentials that you will need to succeed. Your learning plan fills the gaps between what you can do now compared to what you need to be able to do in order to achieve your goal. As your learning journey progresses, you will identify new gaps to fill and need to update your learning plan.

Step 4: Practice

The fourth step to learning for success is mindful and deliberate practice as you implement your learning plan. I learned the importance of mindful and deliberate practice when I gave my first speech at a Toastmasters meeting. I thought I had practiced enough but my performance told a different story. I got feedback from my fellow toastmasters about what I did well and what I still needed to work on – the latter list was longer. This feedback informed my preparation and practice for the next speech which went better. Mindful and deliberate practice means you are pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and you are discovering improvement needs for better performance.

Step 5: Measure

The fifth and final step to learning for success is measuring your progress. In Toastmasters, there were specific requirements to be awarded a Competent Toastmaster (CTM) specified in a manual. CTM requirements included club membership, ten speech assignments, and recorded evaluations of the speech assignments. The speech evaluation form included general comments and quantitative rankings in 7 areas including clarity, vocal variety, eye contact, gestures, audience awareness, comfort level, and interest. The completed manual had to be sent to Toastmasters International Headquarters in order to get awarded a CTM. There were other awards available once you got a CTM such as a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) and a Toastmasters Accredited Speaker. I also earned my Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) designation through a written submission plus an in-person demonstration and evaluation of my facilitation performance. My CPF gets renewed every three years by submitting documentation of progress against the ten core competencies for facilitators. Achieving a speaking award like a CTM or a certification like the CPF are examples of goals that measure progress towards career success.

Learning, like IQ, is not enough to achieve success. You need to combine the 5 steps of learning for success with the right kind of behavior for success. The 5 steps of learning for success are find purpose, picture excellence, plan, practice, and measure. There are three steps to achieve the behaviors most important to success. The 3 steps to behaving for success are check your beliefs, develop self-motivation, and enlist the support of others.

3 Steps to Behaving for Success

Step 1: Check Your Beliefs

Beliefs are behaviors and assumptions that are hard-wired into our non-conscious brain because they have been helpful to us in repeated situations. Some of our beliefs produce behaviors helpful to success and some of them do not. Regardless, new beliefs can be programmed into our brain with repeated use. Research of successful people point to three core beliefs that produce behaviors needed for success.

The first core belief supporting success is a growth mindset which is the belief that you can improve a trait or skill with effort and persistence. Research shows that a growth mindset predicts higher performance and success than those without a growth mindset (Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, NYC, NY: Ballantine Books, 2007). A growth mindset takes focusing more on process than traits, using the phrase “not yet,” and viewing challenge as an opportunity to get smarter rather than a time to look dumber.

The second core belief that supports success is positive core self-evaluations. Positive core self-evaluations include four core beliefs. The first belief is that you have high overall worth as a person. The second belief is in your ability to achieve tasks and goals. The third belief is you have a high degree of control over what happens in your life. The fourth belief is you have the capability to cope with the emotional ups and downs of everyday life. Research shows that people with high positive core self-evaluations tend to perform better and make more money because they see the world in a positive light, see themselves more positively, and have more confidence than those with low positive core self-evaluations.

The third and final core belief that supports success is the belief in interconnectedness. A belief in interconnectedness leads to the use of systems thinking in goal achievement (Donnella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2008). Successful people know that understanding the different parts of the systems that impact a goal is a source of opportunity and innovation.

Step 2: Develop Self-Motivation

There are two primary sources of self-motivation needed to support success. One source of self-motivation is conscientiousness or holding yourself to high standards with regard to your responsibilities. Conscientious people have the ability and will to figure out what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it, and how to get it done. Researchers have found that conscientiousness is the most accurate predictor of work achievement and can be improved through habit formation (https://neurosciencenews.com/conscientiousness-motivation.) The other source of self-motivation is grit. Psychologist Angela Duckworth defines grit as sustained high stamina in both passion and perseverance towards a single long-term goal (Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, NYC, NY: Scribner, 2018). Duckworth believes that grit is partly genetic but also can be developed by practices like focusing on things you are able to change, having hope, and having an optimistic mindset (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxkUv5PKano).

Step 3: Enlist Support from Others

Professor and author Paula J. Caproni says: “Getting ahead requires getting along and no-one succeeds alone.” Creativity guru R. Keith Sawyer points out in his book Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration that even the seemingly solitary act of writing takes the input of other people in order to be successful. Enlisting the support of others to support success takes developing five core social skills.

The first core social skill supporting success is being an energizer which is a person who increases another person’s energy when they interact with them. Energizers release psychological resourcefulness in others through their energizing behaviors. Energizing behaviors include the following: being a realistic optimist, conveying a compelling vision, showing respect for others, having faith in others’ abilities to achieve goals, encouraging participation, facilitating contribution, practicing deep listening, and matching behaviors to words.

The second core social skill supporting success is self-awareness and self-branding. It takes self-awareness in order to craft and exude a brand which is how you want others to view you in order to achieve your purpose and goals in life. A great place to start with this social skill is to query five to ten people who know you well on what they view as your strengths and weaknesses, and on their overall impression of you. Evaluate the answers and compare your assessment to how you want others to perceive you and make the changes needed to close the gap.

The third core social skill supporting success is collaboration which is working with others to create something of value. Collaboration has many facets such as planning to identify needs and goals before group work, using the right processes for group work, establishing the best climate for group work, and defining behavioral norms supportive of group work. To learn more, check out the collaboration content and resources on the Fulcrum Connection LLC website (https://fulcrumconnection.com/1373-2/).

The fourth core social skill supporting success is building a strong network. Building a strong network includes building rapport with others and assessing your social network in order to improve it over time. Building rapport with others includes an understanding of social needs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=n-zZsn98nR4), deep listening, emotion management, and a genuine interest in learning about and from others. A strong network is a sociogram that is a good size, has gaps, has identity diversity, and has both strong and weak ties. A sociogram is a visual image of your social network with you in the middle and all the people you know categorized by how you know them around you. The sociogram also uses solid lines to indicate who you know, dotted lines to indicate who the people you know also know, and stars to identify the strong ties or people you know very well. Gaps are the spaces in your sociogram. A sociogram that is too dense is not as valuable to success as one that has gaps. Identity diversity includes things like age, gender, race, and religion. Identity diversity in your social network exposes you to a broad range of ideas and perspectives to improve problem-solving and creativity. Strong ties are important for emotional support and people willing to take risks in support of your career needs while weak ties can help you access more information and resources than strong ties.

The fifth and final core social skill supporting success is intentional interaction such as influence and negotiation. Influence is used when you need to work with someone while negotiation is used when you need to get something that you want from another person. Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur describe influence in their book Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently as follows: “Influence is the ability to accept and evoke change. This requires knowing how to shift your mind from rigid certainty to flexible curiosity without losing what is called in the Japanese martial art of aikido your ‘virtuous intent.’” Negotiation involves both collaboration and competition in which competition is used for value claiming and collaboration is used for value creation. The best blueprint I have found for negotiation is in Margaret A. Neale’s and Thomas Z. Lys’s 2015 book Getting More of What You Want: How the Secrets of Economics and Psychology Can Help You Negotiate Anything, in Business and in Life.

The label of success is used for an impressive accomplishment which happens at the end of a success journey. When we learn about a brilliant new product, a best-selling book, a sought-after speaker, an amazing singer, or a transformative learning program, we are seeing the fruits of the labor and people behind the success. The labor includes the learning experiences plus the years of mindful and deliberate practice needed to achieve success. Learning for success takes the 5 steps of articulating your purpose, envisioning what success looks like, developing a learning plan, practicing with mindfulness and deliberation, and measuring progress towards needed skill and expertise development. Success also requires the right behaviors which come from the 3 steps of adopting the beliefs that support goal achievement, developing self-motivation, and enlisting the support of others. The next time you admire an accomplishment, reflect on the learning journey and behaviors behind the success.

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