Not a comedian? Stand up and take note anyway, because Martin Short has something to teach you about success, no matter your path. At nearly 70 Short is a rare success story for any of the areas in which he plies his craft - acting, writing, and occasionally singing. For nearly fifty years now, he's not only succeeded in what he does, he always seems to be out ahead of his peers too, the vast majority of whom are lucky to have a steady audience, let alone a viable income. No doubt he's deeply talented. But his secret to success is a lot simpler and more accessible than you might think: he regularly gives himself a report card.

The 'Short' Answer To How To Be a 5-Decade Success

Yup, you read right. Mr. Fun is also pragmatic. At intervals Short says he pauses to deliberately take stock of and 'grade' himself across the categories he believes make up the greater whole of his success. For him those are health, family, friends, money, career, creativity, self-discipline, and lifestyle. Simple sounding enough, still talk is cheap. It's because he actually grades himself that he's actively conscious of the balance or imbalance of the parts that make Martin Short Martin Short. Each report card gives him insight about what's working and what to shore up. "To me," Short said in a recent interview, "life is a practical experience each day." It's a deceivingly simple statement you could easily wave off and not exactly what's you'd expect to hear from a comedian. But it reminds us how easy it is for any of us, and especially those who lead, to get lost in our craft, our ambitions, or ourselves and forget the fundamentals.

Follow The Leader: The 5 Es of Leadership Success

More than three decades of intimate work with successful leaders reveals 5 factors worthy of regular grading. Just as Short's categories reflect the totality of his personal success, the '5 Es' help you determine where on the scale from to you are at any point in time and act as an effective guide to where you need to adjust.

  1. Expansion. No, this is not a reminder to check in on your world domination progress. Expansion is asking yourself to take stock of whether or not you're remaining 'open' enough to see what you need to see. New information, changes in old assumptions, threats, opportunities, none of these can be grasped if you're consumed by unwavering routine. It's not about the willingness to be open it's about the actual actions and the proof they're working. The actions could be anything - daily exercise, or reading beyond your domain, or simply doing more listening and less of the telling. The point is that the expansion grade you give yourself forces you to confront yourself and either get going if you're not doing what you need to stay open, or to change what you're doing that's no longer effective. It's a personal habit, but one with a cultural impact.
  2. Ecosystem. One of the biggest mistakes we make as we angle for success is failing to see the breadth of what impacts it. Most of the time we look to the obvious and the close to home for our indicators -employees, org charts and plans, customers, and competitors - all the while neglecting the equally important other things often just out of view. Doing an ecosystem check reminds us of the partners, vendors, the community at large, and all the other factors that are increasingly interconnected to what gets most of our attention, but to which we pay little heed. More than ever, the idea of seeing yourself and your success as dependent on an ecosystem isn't just relevant, it's becoming a source of staying power and even competitive advantage.
  3. Ego. As you strive, sometimes your most valuable reminder is just to get out of your own way. There's an element of ego in every person who succeeds and it's not all bad. But despite the rumors, ego has a greater potential to cause you to misjudge than it has superpowers. Whenever you check in, be sure to check this. Failure to do so skews everything else.
  4. Evidence. This is the grade we most often race to first, and to distraction and forgetting the rest: are you producing value, or not? The problem with this is less the order or more the focus. Too often we see value as equivalent to profit. But money isn't value it's a measure. Value is that greater accrual of meaning, of realized potential, and of insights into what comes next. Pay attention to the bottom line just be sure you're not missing what drives it and is ultimately more important.
  5. Evolution. Any single report card check-in allows us to step back and see if we are getting anywhere. But progress isn't our grades in a single moment. It's the stringing together of moments over time that confirms we're actually getting somewhere. Marty Short offers a great example of the evolution grade and why it's the ultimate indicator.

Since the early 1970s Short has been a musical and dramatic actor. He's created enduring skit characters that reside in the pantheon of SNL and SCTV's very best. He's raised three happy and accomplished kids and had 30 years of marriage with his wife whom he lost to cancer that he has called magic. And at 68 he's headed out on a command performance tour with his buddy Steve Martin following up one of the most successful road shows of 2018. His vocational arc reminds us that each time we grade ourselves we'd be wise to note progress in the larger context and not just the immediate that usually steals our attention. Success after all is about staying in motion, not every second of every day, but steadily moving over time. Even when all seems well, it's important to confirm that you're still moving. Where? To somewhere that makes the grade, for you.