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GREAT LEADERS

7 Traits That Distinguish Super Successful People From Ordinary Ones

How'd Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett do so well? They lived according to these seven strategic, wealth-building principles.
Left to right: Guy Laliberté, Bill Gates, Richard Branson.
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My new book Business Brilliant is based on survey research that found seven key principles of work and wealth-building that super-successful people practice but ordinary people avoid.

Here are stories of seven of the most successful--and wealthiest--people in the world to illustrate each of those seven principles. 

1. Guy Laliberte, Cirque du Soleil Founder: Do What You Love, But Follow the Money

Guy Laliberte was a high-school-educated circus clown from Quebec when he led a collective of performers to start Cirque du Soleil. Despite government subsidies, indulgent sponsors, and Laliberte's hard work, the circus barely survived for years while evolving its distinctive style. Laliberte's master stroke was to switch Cirque's status from non-profit to for-profit (with himself as one-third owner). Today he's worth $1.8 billion. Even clowning can be a smart career move, as long you're the owner.

2. Suze Orman, Financial Advisor: Save Less, Earn More 

Suze Orman has made a fortune telling people to grow their wealth through frugality, despite having no personal experience in the matter. When Suze was in her mid-30s, she lived high, but was mired in debt. She didn't cut back on luxuries; instead she worked her way out. She did what she loved, followed financial opportunity, and today she is in a situation to spend $300,000 a year traveling the world on private jets. In the end, your time is much better spent seizing opportunities than pinching pennies.

3. Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder: Imitate, Don't Innovate 

Bill Gates built one of the world's largest fortunes--$67 billion, according to Forbes--by licensing operating system software to IBM. In actuality, that software was wholly adapted from someone else's code. Gates' Microsoft lacked the innovative capacity to write it from scratch, so it dressed up some code from another company's software, which Microsoft had bought for $25,000. When Gates delivered the second-hand software to IBM, it was on time, but it was so buggy that IBM engineers had to rewrite it completely. Thirty-three years later, no one remembers or cares. Innovation is seldom as important as timely execution of an adequate imitation.

4. Warren Buffett, Investor: Know-How Is Good, Know-Who Is Better

Warren Buffett arrived at his savvy investment philosophy when he was very young, but his know-how was nearly worthless because he personally lacked enough capital to make large market moves. Buffett didn't get rich until he overcame his shyness, recruited members for his investment partnerships, and led those partners in squeezing stock performance out of corporate managers. Case in point: No one gets rich alone.

5. Adam McKay, Hollywood Producer/Director: Win-Win Is a Sure Way to Lose 

Adam McKay is one of the most successful producer/directors in Hollywood. He's teamed up with Will Ferrell on Talledega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and Anchorman. But his movie-making career might never have happened if he hadn't negotiated a sweetheart deal to produce film shorts while on the writing staff at Saturday Night Live. The secret to landing the deal? He didn't try to play a so-called win-win negotiating game. Instead, he told SNL's top dog Lorne Michaels that having his own film crew was his price for staying with the show, and he was ready to walk away without it. Michaels paid happily.

6. Richard Branson, Virgin Founder: Spread the Work, Spread the Wealth 

Sir Richard Branson suffers from severe dyslexia, but he's come to regard it as his greatest strength. Branson runs his Virgin Group as a venture capital fund that places bets on entrepreneurs with bright ideas that fit the Virgin brand strategy. He's never tempted to micro-manage any of the dozens of Virgin companies because he can't. "If I could read a balance sheet," he once said, "I wouldn't have done anything in life." In sum, work your strengths and get others to work theirs.

7. Steve Jobs, Apple Founder: Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

Steve Jobs had a vision, back in the 1980s, for a three-dimensional imaging computer that would revolutionize the defense, oil, and medical industries. He was wrong about it, and he lost millions of his own dollars before shutting down production of the $125,000 Pixar Imaging Computer in 1991. At the time, Pixar's only profitable unit was a tiny team of animators using Pixar software to make computer-generated TV commercials--a team that would later form the Pixar movie studio that made Toy Story. And when Jobs died in 2011, more than 70 percent of his $8.3 billion fortune came from his stake in Pixar Studios, in an industry he never had any intention of entering.

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