Attributes of successful people

From The Truth About Henry Ford by Sarah T. Bu...

I was recently challenged by a colleague to identify the attributes of successful people. Of course, any company defines a core set of values and assesses performance against those but I lifted-up the challenge to rather come up with a more general mindset related to people’s success.

I stepped back a little bit and observed that we are used to put a spotlight on success but how many times one failed before being successful? How do we treat failure?

It’s my opinion that “the carrot and the stick” only works if you want to achieve mediocrity. If you identify a person above that level, you should consider forgetting about the stick because the carrot itself is motivating enough to try again and try harder. Moreover, maybe you should give space and be open minded to let things go on unmarked paths or give a chance to fail again for the success that person will achieve is by far more valuable.

History gives us precious lessons if we take the time to see it open minded. Here are some examples that we may need to look at as to wide-up our views on how to treat success and failure:

  • “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
  • Henry Ford is today known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars. However, he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded his successful company.
  • Bill Gates didn’t seem like a shoe-in for success after dropping out of Harvard and starting a failed first business with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. While this early idea didn’t work, Gates’ later work did, creating the global empire that is Microsoft.
  • Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but most people would agree that he caught on pretty well in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.
  • Teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Of course, all those unsuccessful attempts finally resulted in the design that worked.
  • Abraham Lincoln‘s life wasn’t so easy. In his youth he went to war a captain and returned a private (that’s  as low as it goes.) Lincoln didn’t stop failing there, however. He started numerous failed businesses and he was defeated in numerous runs he made for public office.
  • Charlie Chaplin was initially rejected by Hollywood studio chiefs because they felt it was a little too nonsensical to ever sell.
  • Beethoven was incredibly awkward on the violin and was often so busy working on his own compositions that he neglected to practice. Despite his love of composing, his teachers felt he was hopeless at it and would never succeed with the violin or in composing. Beethoven kept plugging along, however, and composed some of the best-loved symphonies of all time–five of them while he was completely deaf.

If Bill Gates would have started his business at another company, he would have been fired (or at least punished in some painful way) for failure instead of being encouraged to try again and succeed. While Beethoven was not in the right place with the violin (he should have composed instead of playing it), Ford just needed to learn how to do something nobody else did before him. Moreover, what company would’ve let Edison fail 1,000 times before making the light bulb that changed the world?

To sum up, I think that most of the attributes may not necessarily be people owned but rather an organisational challenge to have:

1. the right people

2. in the right place

3. at the right time…

Besides that, the other organisational challenge is to have the right knowledge available for those people at the right time since re-inventing the wheel is not an option nowadays. So, why not shift the view a little bit?


8 thoughts on “Attributes of successful people”

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  2. I would add that success most often comes with passion. Where is passion, you can forget about the stick indeed. The person’s passion is the carrot :)

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  6. Success also comes with patience and perseverance. It is said that George Stephenson, the mathematician who also came to be known as the father of the steam engine was very slow in learning and in making educational progress. Yet he manufactured the world’s first railway engine. He produced the world’s first passenger train in 1825.

    Scholars say: High intelligence is of two types: one is late-coming intellect and another, which come soon. The lives of great men show this disparity. Hence we can say that success is also of two types: one comes sooner and the other, late.

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