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16 Secrets for Career Success From the World's Top Executives

1. Have a personal strategy Highly-successful executives know the value of a personal strategy. This means that they develop a career pat...

1. Have a personal strategy

Highly-successful executives know the value of a personal strategy. This means that they develop a career path plan that will serve to not only propel them up the corporate ladder, but also find ways to differentiate themselves from other professionals. Outlining your goals and creating a solid career strategy is step one in building a successful executive career.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small the task is, if you can do it just a little bit better than what is expected, you will be noticed and rewarded.” – Jeffrey Katzenberg,DreamWorks Co-Founder

“To Wow, you must differentiate yourself and do something above what’s expected.” -Tony Hsieh, Founder of Zappos

2. Positive Attitude

In order to understand the power of positivity and how important it is to your career, you need to first think about how negativity works. The reason your negative thoughts are so destructive is because they create limitations and constraints to what you can achieve. Positive thinking, however, is the very first step towards success. At least that is what experts say. According to Rhonda Byrne, author of the book The Secret, a positive thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative one. As such you should take advantage of cultivating positive emotions because happy people tend to perform better while being more motivated and effective.
3. Networking and making connections
“It’s not what you know, but who you know” is an expression you’ve likely heard more than once—and an important one to remember if you are looking to build a successful executive career. While knowledge and skills are important, developing relationships with the right people is key. Experts suggest that in the early stages of your career (and throughout) it’s critical to develop personal networks with peers, managers and others by joining organizations and becoming active within the community. Always seize the opportunity to be mentored; behind every great leader or successful business person is a mentor who inspired and guided them.
“I think mentors are important, I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship.” - Oprah Winfrey
4. Get educated
There are exceptions to every rule, but in the business world, there are very few top executives that do not have a college education. A large percentage earn post graduate degrees in their field knowing how important and necessary they are in attaining upper level positions. For many of today’s top executives, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) was a key factor to achieving success.
Why is an advanced degree so important? Because it provides the necessary skill set to perform the job successfully and elevates you above those who stopped their education after earning a bachelor’s degree. Those with MBAs are viewed as a valuable asset to an organization. Some of the most recognizable executives who prove this point:
  • Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay
  • John Chamers, CEO of Cisco Systems
  • David Simon, CEO of Simon Property Group
  • John Martin, CEO of Gilead Science
  • Mitchell Caplan, former CEO of E-Trade Financial Corporation
  • Charles Halderman, CEO of Freddie Mac
  • Louis Caldera, former United States Secretary of the Army

5. Goal Setting

As Bruce Lee once said, “a goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at”. Deadlines have and always will be part of our lives – and not just in the workplace. Sometimes these are necessary to help you get things done that will allow you to grow in the future. In order to develop your career, you have to be motivated enough to keep going while setting clear and realistic goals. Not only will these give you more focus and clarity but also drive you forward.  

6. Mindfulness

One of the greatest things you can do in life is help other people. But how can you do that if you are not prepared to see what they see and experience what they feel? Successful entrepreneurs practice mindfulness to be able to engage with other people more effectively showing more compassion and empathy. Apart from that mindfulness adds to their self-development, allowing them to identify opportunities easily, to be more resilient and self-disciplined.  

7. Hard Work

Josh Bersin believes a successful career begins with hard work. He supports that ‘hard work beats talent’ because it’s just not enough to be talented if you don’t put much effort into becoming better. No matter how educated you are if you aren’t willing to challenge or push yourself to your limits success won’t come easily.  

8. Self-Confidence

One of the most important assets to becoming successful is believing in yourself. That’s because a lack of self-worth can have devastating effects on your career and life in general. Apart from not being able to enjoy life to the fullest, it’s also possible that you get perceived as less competent by your managers and as such miss out on important career opportunities. According to The Telegraph a 2012 study, those who appear to be more confident achieve a higher social status than their peers and get more respect from others. So, unless you believe in yourself, you can’t expect others to.

9. Healthy Habits

There has been much talk about how good habits can help you become more successful. Looking into the lifestyle of many famous entrepreneurs, you can learn their own rituals for success. Some healthy habits you can adopt include getting up early, exercising every day, reading or simply surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

10. A Supportive Spouse

Although this might come as a surprise, having a conscientious spouse by your side is more beneficial to your career than you might think. Research suggests, that not only is your career success determined by your own personality but also by your partner’s. This has a lot to do with contributing to social responsibly such as household duties, paying the bills as well as promoting a healthy lifestyle and habits. Apart from that, a spouse can help you reduce stress in an attempt to achieve a better work-life balance.

11. Persistence 

Rome wasn’t built in a day so it might be years until you manage to reach the top.  In order to achieve your goals, Yishan Wong on Forbes, suggests that you need to “be persistent like a bear”. This metaphor works quite well considering that a hungry, highly determined bear would do anything to get its prey whereas a lazy human wouldn’t try as hard and eventually give up.

12. Personal Branding

In order to be successful, you have to be able to promote an enthusiastic, energetic and positive image around your name.  Investing in your personal brand can help you create a professional profile that allows you to be seen by others as a well-respected and admirable individual. Look at Steve Jobs for example and how he successfully managed to associate his work with his name. Once you manage to do half of what he did, you will attract an immense following from people who will get interested in your work.
As Jordi Alemany suggests, if you manage to apply the 60-30-10 rule to your life, you may find that aiming for success isn’t as difficult as it sounds. This refers to a simple strategy where you network, promote your brand and then work. The numbers represent the amount of effort you need to put in these three elements respectively beginning with 60% networking, 30% in your personal brand and 10% into work. Yes, apparently it can be that easy!

13. Interview your boss carefully

The famed Apple computer designer Jonathan Ive – the man largely responsible for the creation of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad – is the same person who created the much derided and failed Apple Newton of the 1980s.  Working with former Apple CEO John Sculley as his boss, Ive was a frustrated, largely floundering mid-level designer.  Free to let his creativity flow under Steve Jobs, Ive became one of the most successful designers of our time.  Your boss will likely impact your life – and certainly your career – as much as any other single person.  Be sure you pick him or her carefully.

14. Build a team. 

Assemble a group of people invested in your success.  We call this group an IBOD – an individual board of directors.  Identify a small group of people whose opinion you value and explicitly ask if you may call upon them with questions and for help.  Don’t just ask a group of friends.  Choose 6–10 former professors, classmates, and other people you consider interesting and impressive. Make sure they have different backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives to be available to assist you as you begin your career.

15. Seek out simple solutions

"The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity. To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact. But complexity blocks all three steps," the co-founder of Microsoft said in his 2007 Harvard commencement address.

"Finding solutions is essential if we want to make the most of our caring," Gates said. "If we have clear and proven answers anytime an organization or individual asks, 'How can I help?,' then we can get action and we can make sure that none of the caring in the world is wasted. But complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action for everyone who cares, and that makes it hard for their caring to matter."

16. Simplicity of Purpose

Billionaires are billionaires because when they went about building an empire, they were hyper-focused on a specific objective. All their effort and energy was dedicated to pursuing that clearly defined purpose. For example:

Henry Ford wanted to democratize the automobile—to make it available to everyone.
Bill Gates wanted to put a PC inside every home in America.
Steve Jobs wanted to put the power of a computer inside a phone (and make it painfully easy to use).
When we look at the whole of these goals, they seem massive, imposing, and yet they can all be stated in a single, easy-to-understand sentence.

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