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Recipes for Success

Is it just me, or does this sound familiar: it’s been a long week and Friday night has finally arrived and with it, the promise of a measure of well deserved rest and relaxation. And what better way to welcome the weekend than sitting down for a meal, lovingly prepared by someone else… anybody else. Serenity in the environmental comfort of your favorite restaurant. Sit down in your favorite booth if it’s open, and carefully review the menu. You memorized the offering long ago, but hey you never know, there may be something new and captivating that catches your eye. If you’re like me, you look at everything and ultimately order the same thing you order every time.

The plates drop, the small talk fades and it’s time to surrender to culinary ecstasy. A quick assessment of everyone else’s plate validates your decision or gives you a bad case of order envy. If the world is in balance and my go-to cuisine lives up to expectations, I invariably will turn to my wife and comment “this is amazing, we have to figure out how to make it at home.”

Don't pretend like this hasn’t happened to you. C’mon the classic mysteries that have driven mankind crazy! Questions like: what are KFC’s 11 herbs and spices? Is it crack, or what? How is it possibly legal?

With the advent of the internet we can search for these secrets, and even find a few. However, some recipes are locked down tighter than the Crabby Patty formula; stowed away and on a need-to-know basis. I don’t even think SpongeBob knows the recipe.

Success can feel just as elusive. What is THE recipe that will guarantee a deliciously successful outcome? For our purposes here, let’s define success as degrees of fulfillment, joy, and happiness.

There are so many ingredients, so many variables. How can we find the right combinations in the midst of seemingly so much chaos?

My years in leadership at Fender Musical Instruments gave me a unique perspective on success. When I reflect on the careers of some of my most accomplished peers, I saw exactly what I had expected. They all possessed the table-stakes traits of high performing individuals. This was no real surprise, no epiphany of any significance. All absolutely, totally predictable.

A short list of those traits would look something like this:

Energy - They all brought energy to the table. It was obvious in their physical demeanor, preparation and engagement. They brought this energy consistently to every aspect of their lives.

Focus - They all had the ability to sustain critical thinking and process execution. These individuals did not suffer from distraction or opportunity addiction…Squirrel! What was I saying? Oh yeah, they keep their eye on the ball and see things through to completion.

Creativity - Creativity often presents as vision and problem solving capabilities. Innovation that drives ideation, growth, and evolution. This is a must, no matter the role. Successful people find new solutions to old issues.

Accountability - The successful people I observed all took on responsibility head-first. There was never a question about who’s on first? They seek clarity and an intimate understanding of their responsibilities.

Collaborative - Even if their preferred work method was Han Solo style man-versus-universe, my successful colleagues still had huge collaborative muscle. They understood the value and power of diversity.

Honestly, the list goes on, and given the huge variety of situational variables, it is too extensive and ridiculously difficult to collate into a succinct point of view. So here’s where it gets sticky: there were many individuals that possessed all these success traits and a quiver full of other capabilities, and yet they failed to put big wins on the board. Hmm...

What was missing? What was keeping them from optimizing their potential? There is certainly some universal randomness at play, but there has to be something else hedging their bets. When the skills and experience are equal, what pushes the vote one way or another?

You’ve been so patient (and all that talk about food has probably made you hungry!); I promise I won’t keep you waiting. So, here is what eventually came to light. There were two key ingredients present in almost every example of success I explored over the years.

The Spirit of Reinvention

The first clue came from my long term observations of individuals and teams. The individuals that sustained both personal and professional growth over time all possessed the versatility, willingness, and desire to reimagine themselves. They easily adapted to changes, they were curious, always learning and understood the value of newness. New perspectives, new capabilities, new attitudes. These individuals were always evolving, elevating and seeking higher ground. These individuals possessed what I have identified as the The Spirit of Reinvention.

Objective Self Awareness

The second ingredient was actually harder to uncover. Like a strong spice, a little goes a long way. It adds so much to the flavor, but it’s hard to identify. It can be unbelievably subtle. This ingredient is Objective Self Awareness. Successful individuals have a higher degree of self awareness. As a result they understand their impact, both positively and negatively, on others. Because they are self aware, they value and understand the individuality of others. They are able to step outside of their comfort zone to relate to others.

What makes this even more astounding is that research has shown that approximately 90% of us believe we possess a degree of self awareness. But the truth is only about 10% of people actually have a clue as to how others perceive them. The uncomfortable truth is that what you see in the mirror is not exactly what others see when they observe your behavior. And this is a shame because the fruit of an elevated self awareness is prolific. The individuals from my years of observation that had what my mother referred to as “people skills” were operating at a huge advantage. There’s just no way around it.

The bottom line: people will not be inspired by you, nor follow you, believe in you, vote for you, cheer for you or loan you a quarter if they don’t like the way you come across to them. Period. If you lack Objective Self Awareness, you can’t even begin the journey of understanding yourself well enough to put others needs and preferences above your own.

Self awareness and interpersonal skills will not get you a role you’re not qualified for. It will however break a tie almost every time. Do your peers want to see you win? Do they celebrate your victories? Do they hold up a sign that says “you get my vote!”? If they do, it’s because you put their needs and preferences first, and this is how they say thanks.

To break out of the status quo, you’ll need to embrace the Spirit of Reinvention, take a journey of Objective Self Awareness, and understand yourself well enough to meet the needs and preferences of others.

Check back for more on the Objective Self Awareness in our next post!


Rich McDonald


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