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The 3 Traits Essential to Success

If you really want to achieve remarkable things, start here.
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Some leaders instinctively know how hard they can push employees without going too far. I am not one of those people. As far as I'm concerned, when people feel like they're being pushed too hard, they can push back. I have no problem with that.

Tension and friction are integral parts of how organizations operate at peak performance. Teams need that to achieve great things in the business world. So do individuals. To be successful, you have to be willing to face adversity and fight to win.

It's not for everyone, but then, that's why there's a bell curve that describes human performance. High performance people and teams are at the narrow end and the big fat middle is for the mediocre majority. Don't even ask about the low performance end.

You see, at some point in your life, in your career, in your business, you have to decide which part of that curve you're comfortable being in. At the performance edge or in the mediocre middle. Let me break that decision process down for you a bit.

First of all, you can't have it both ways. That's a myth. You can't achieve great things without taking big risks. You can't have a successful career without fighting the good fight. The real world just doesn't work that way. The only way to easy street is the hard way. And yet, so many people think they can cheat success.

They think they have a God-given right to a great career that pays well with an amazing boss who's really nice to them or, better still, no boss at all. They want to work when they want, how they want, and where they want. They want to text and Tweet, take lots of long vacations, get free healthcare, and have a big old safety net under them should anything go wrong.

I suspect those are the same people who buy into miracle diets and weight loss systems, too-good-to-be-true financial schemes, and the vast majority of self-help books that promise impossible but enticing outcomes. And they probably get way over their heads into debt and assume somebody will bail them out.

That quick fix mentality is infecting our culture. Which is fine, since we need a lot of people to occupy the big fat middle of that bell curve.

Let's assume that you're not one of those people. That you have your feet planted firmly on the ground, have a strong sense of personal responsibility, and realize that you get out of life what you put into it. In that case, it really comes down to three things. For the moment, we'll call them goals, motivation, and luck.

All of the highly accomplished people I've known usually met most if not all of these three criteria:

Being successful is their top priority. It's like they have a chip on their shoulder, something to prove. It doesn't really matter who they have to prove it to--themselves, their parents, even their teachers or managers who said they wouldn't amount to anything--just so long as they have a clear bulls-eye to aim at. That "come hell or high water I'm going to make it big" attitude drives them, keeps them focused, and ensures that they never give up no matter how hard things get.

They think they're special. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren't, but that self-belief is a powerful motivating force that can often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It also provides a built-in self-confidence that helps them to rise above the adversity they inevitably face on the road to achieving great things.

They didn't stop searching until they found their place in the world. There's something about doing something you love that makes it so much more fun and fulfilling to put yourself out there, take big risks, find opportunity, and make your own luck. It also makes it a hell of a lot easier to become the best at doing one thing.

That unique combination of knowing what's important to you, believing in yourself, and feeling confident that you will find what you're looking for, is a powerful way to ensure you'll end up at the high-performance edge of the bell curve. Just add personal responsibility and hard work, and you've got yourself a great recipe for success.

Last updated: Aug 21, 2013

STEVE TOBAK | Columnist

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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