When speaking at events, I often start out with some audience interaction. I do this by asking the audience what do they think is the number one indicator that people will be successful.
I always get some great answers such as drive, intelligence, self-confidence, entrepreneurial skills, commitment, ability to sell, determination, rich (inherited some wealth), charismatic, or good network, and many others.
Now while all these are great qualities, and they will definitely help you be more successful, none of these is the number one indicator of success.
In fact, in years of asking this simple question, no one has ever guessed the right answer even in spite of exhibiting that very quality themselves.
According to a study by Prof Thomas Harrell of Standford University, where he looked at the success of MBA graduates over a 20-year period, the number one indicator of success, which was exhibited by all those who went on to be successful, was the ability to speak up.
When I first heard this, I wasn't sure whether or not I agreed with it, but over time I have come to realize just how true it is.
I have seen it over and over again from people who have been presented great opportunities and yet they didn't do it because they were afraid to speak up, and it has even happened to me, (more than once I might add).
I remember I was out of work and had been for a month or three, I was looking for a job, but the job market was very tough. Fortunately, I had a good friend, who knew about my situation and he had a role for which I would be perfect, and I was sure that he would call me about it.
Then a week later he offered the job to someone else, and I was gutted. I felt betrayed so I went and asked him "why didn't you offer the job to me rather than give it to someone else."
He said, "well, you never asked, so I didn't think you were interested."
That was a painful and important lesson I learned, although it's still something I struggle with today.
I think Nora Roberts says it best "if you don't ask, the answer will always be no!".
You might think that the answer will be no, but you will never be sure without asking, and if you do ask you might just get a pleasant surprise.
In sales, if you don't ask for the sale you probably won't get the sale.
If you need help and don't ask for it, you won't get it.
People are not mindreaders, and they may not know that you need help. In fact, they may want to offer it, but they may be afraid of offending you by offering help you didn't ask for.
When others ask for help or suggestions if you don't speak up how will they know that you can fill their need or help them with the problems?
Time and time again I have seen very knowledgeable people keep quiet when the boss has asked for ideas or suggestions. If you don't speak up how will your ideas get the opportunity to succeed?
In one study into failure, it was shown that on projects that failed, 75 percent of the time the people involved knew day one that the project was going to fail.
That means on 75 percent of failures there were opportunities for people to speak up, point out that an initiative was going to fail, and possibly have the opportunity to try and fix it, or at least prevent it.
It doesn't matter how intelligent you are, how much drive and commitment you have, how large your network is, or how great your business skills are if you don't speak up.
Your talents and efforts will go unnoticed, the sales will go to your competition, and it will be difficult to achieve the success that you crave.
So be bold and speak up.
When opportunity knocks, make sure you answer.