The challenge of figuring out how to succeed isn't new. What's different today, even disquieting, is the rising view that success comes in "ones" - as in one person accruing the spoils of success all to themselves, one and only one path or means to achieve it, or seeing success as somehow limited by its form or by the moment in which it occurs. Sometimes success does happen in ones. But inevitably when it does it's fleeting, false, and unchanged, a recipe for long-term failure.

It's safe to say that no one wants short-lived or empty achievement. The question is how do we avoid it or more tangibly, what skills do we most need for lasting success? The best answer comes from looking across leaders who sustain success across time and circumstance to see what if any patterns emerge. While one leader's story or method isn't likely to fit your own leadership style or dreams, those elements that reoccur no matter the leader or the conditions in which she leads have immense value. Four patterns, indeed four skills consistently stand out. Be warned: they're not the usual suspects or some fluffy foursome you use once or turn on only when you're in trouble. They're deeper, more foundational in nature, and they require the hard work and honing dedication not simply of the leader, but of everyone in the organization that person leads. You might say they're cultural skills, and if you did you'd be right and on the right track.

1. Compromising Without Compromise.

Perhaps the most elusive skill among us right now is compromise. Each day it seems we're met with examples of leaders - business, political, social, or otherwise, who model that compromise and cooperation are not in their progress toolkit. The biggest reason why is this: We interpret compromise to mean giving up, a false and dangerous red herring.

Change is easier than you'd think. We need to learn where and why to compromise, and nearly four decades ago Roger Fisher and William Ury taught us how. In their fittingly titled mega success Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving Inthey teach that advantageous and effective compromise boils down to knowing the difference between principles and positions. Principles are what we stand for and seek to fulfill over time. Positions are those very specific things we labor over, even get blinded by in any given moment. It's positions we strategize, argue, and often get defensive about. Whenever we focus too much on them we risk distracting ourselves from the greater prize and the point: long-term success and repeated value creation. Simply checking in on the proportions of energy you're investing in principal versus position goes a long way towards helping you see a bigger picture and the multitude of ways to make it real.

2. Exploring The "Adjacent Possible."

Compromise works or fails largely on the basis of scope - in other words, we can choose to see things only within the narrow boundaries of our current position, process, or knowledge, or instead choose to look bigger and beyond our borders. MacArthur Fellow, scientist, and serial entrepreneur Stu Kauffman calls that choice to go bigger exploring 'the adjacent possible.' Its name conveys its meaning: what's possible- the next big idea, the way out of the place you're stuck in, or the ground from which new opportunity is most likely to spring -inevitably lies beyond the borders of where you are in this moment. Yet those possibilities exists not a moon leap away, but just adjacentto where we our now. When we're in the habit of exploring beyond what we know, we don't just raise the likelihood of seeing new things 'out there,' we inevitably change the way we see our current environs. Both things make us more open, more adaptable, and better positioned to find success. More, they raise the likelihood of drawing others to us who can help realize that success - which brings us to the third vital skill: enabling mutual gain.

3. Enabling Mutual Gain.

Let's be blunt. We venture into unknown territory or entertain compromise most often because we hope to gain something. "I go, I give, I expect to get" is a deeply grooved human soundtrack. But it's not our only soundtrack. Innately we lean towards the collective too. The challenge is balance. To achieve it, Ury suggests an interesting exercise: imagining the otherside's victory speech, not just yours, when the challenge, deal, or day is done.

This simple habit has enormous yield. At a minimum, you begin to explore a zone beyond your own - a perfect example of going into the adjacent possible and doing so with zero risk. But inherently you venture to understand the principles and not just the position of others you work or compete with, shifting your view of them towards collaborator and away from foe. And more still, you afford yourself a chance to design a process or find a path that draws on collective assets, immediately raising the odds of gain for everyone.

4. Taking The Long View.

A view of success as being about 'ones' (one person, time, reward, etc.) blinds you to the reality that success is inevitably a game of inches. We lose sight of that when we play only for an inch. When you instead to take the long view, you automatically raise you expand the probability of being around to play the game again tomorrow, and many days after that. It's not just about seeing further out or bigger. The long view fuels the preceding three skills, the ones the most successful leaders know intimately to be the difference makers. If you pause and consider that for a moment, chances are you'll see the future more clearly than before.

Published on: Feb 13, 2019
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