Strategies for Success
An article about 'strategies for success' for adults and other professionals, examining planning, emotional intelligence, reputation, loyalty, etc.
One of the courses I have taught is called “Strategies for Success.” In this course, we gave students the tools they needed to be successful in school. It was astonishing how many students needed help with tasks such as binder organization, goal setting, creating a study space at home, keeping an academic calendar, and so forth. By taking this course, many students were able to acquire and put into practice, the academic and organizational skills they needed to be successful in school.
But what happens once students graduate? Will they retain these organizational skills? And what other kinds of strategies for success will they need, as they transition into adult life? Many students will of course go on to college or university, where the academic skills they acquired in high school will serve them well. But obviously not all high school graduates go on to university, and in any event, soon enough their university years are behind them, and they too enter the workforce.
So what are the strategies for success for adults? The first strategy, and perhaps the most important, is to be very clear what is meant by success. The word success means different things to different people. For many people, success will be driven by money, revenue or income. In this context, the more one makes, the more successful one is. This is an obvious success yardstick. But clearly, a financial yardstick does not define success for everyone. Generally, defining what success looks like for you or your team, will involve goal-setting. Indeed, the definition of the word success involves “the status of having achieved and accomplished an aim or objective” (Google Dictionary). So, obtaining clarity about what success means to you, will almost always involve setting clear goals and objectives. This doesn’t mean that your plans will always come to pass; indeed, in most cases events will not turn out as planned. This is normal.
However, as former US President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.” By this, he clearly meant to express the deep value of engaging in planning as a means of mapping out the route, landmarks, milestones, and potential pitfalls of the path ahead. But he is also saying to expect the unexpected, at which time the plan becomes a common basis for change and adaptation. When he said “plans are worthless,” he was saying that we cannot foresee every eventuality. But when he said “planning is everything,” he meant that good planning provides the objective and direction of our efforts which allow us to adapt and change direction when the unexpected happens. This is the true, indispensable value of planning.
Other adult strategies for success encroach on the realm of emotional intelligence. This is the capacity for self-awareness, self-control, the healthy and controlled expression of positive emotions, and the ability to handle relationships with other people in an empathetic way. When we express empathy for others, for example, that is often a momentary negation of self-interest. People notice this kind of behavior in a positive way.
Another adult strategy for success is to consciously cultivate respect instead of popularity. It is easy to make a popular decision as a leader, because everyone will like it. It is popular. But what happens when we must make unpopular decisions? When this happens, how well others accept your decision, is based largely on other factors, such as your reputation and the loyalty others may (or may not) feel towards you as a person and as a leader. If you are respected, it is easier to make unpopular decisions when necessary.
Reputation and loyalty are important concepts here. By reputation, we simply mean the observed record of your behavior over time. If you have earned a reputation for impatience, for example, it will impede the quick acceptance of unpopular decisions. Conversely, if you have earned a reputation for fairness, it will hasten the acceptance of an unpopular decision.
Likewise, loyalty is a concept that must be earned over time. Many people automatically expect loyalty from their subordinates or team. This is exactly backwards—because loyalty is earned, it is first necessary to show the people around you that you are invested in their success first. By doing so, you will be showing unselfishness and consequently earning their loyalty. Reputation and loyalty are like money in a savings account. If the account is healthy, you can make withdrawals in an emergency without bankrupting the account.
Ultimately, “Strategies for Success” in school is largely about organizational skills, academic discipline and attentiveness. But for adults, the concept of emotional intelligence becomes a critical addendum to the strategies for success they learned in high school.
Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be cultivated, often with the help of a good life coach. How much emotional intelligence do you possess?