Do you ever lay in bed at night in a state of insomnia and look back over your choices in life and think, "I wish I did that differently?"

Perhaps it's feeling like you should've made that transition into a personal calling long ago; chosen better friends, peers, or work habits; or learned better leadership skills to advance up the corporate ladder.

While I won't promise this list is the path to increasing wealth or instant success, I will say this: Every successful person arrived there by choosing to repeat the same habits over and over until they reached the top.

Let me leave you with some key success lessons that so many of us miss until much later in life.

1. Your success is only as good as the people whom you surround yourself with.

Pick your network wisely, it could make or break you. Billionaire Warren Buffett once told a 14-year-old kid at a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting one of the keys to his success: "It's better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you'll drift in that direction."

He taught a good life lesson for all of us about absorbing the very qualities and traits of successful people--those further down the path than us--that will elevate and make us better as leaders, workers, and human beings.

2. Create value to capture people's attention.

Wharton professor Adam Grant says that successful people capture others' attention by creating something of value, which will yield great returns and enlarge their network.

The example he cites is that of Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. For two and a half years, Ms. Blakely ambitiously sold fax machines by day so that she could build her prototype of footless pantyhose by night.

With good intentions and without ever stalking, Blakely sent one from the first batch to none other than Oprah Winfrey, who chose it as one of her favorite things of the year. And the rest, as they say, is history.

3. "Do what you love, and put your whole heart into it, and then just have fun."

That's a direct quote from Apple CEO Tim Cook. In all its simplicity, it seems almost like an anomaly to the conventional wisdom of sacrifice and hard work. 

Doing what you love, however, is what gives your life purpose. And that purpose is exactly what you can't help but keep doing. Even if there are low monetary rewards, you would probably do it anyway because of your love for it. When you discover what this is for you, it's the thing that makes you come alive.

Tim Cook understands this deep down. "My advice to all of you is, don't work for money--it will wear out fast, or you'll never make enough and you will never be happy, one or the other," Cook told students at the University of Glasgow last year after receiving an honorary degree from the school.

4. Do whatever it takes to develop your communication skills.

In my work coaching executives and entrepreneurs, communication issues are common and every one of them agrees that mastering this ability is a necessity for the success of their business.

Well, not just my own clients but the world's most successful billionaire entrepreneurs as well.

In a post on his own Virgin blog in which he lists his top 10 quotes on communication, Richard Branson writes, "Communication makes the world go round. It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow, and progress. It's not just about speaking or reading, but understanding what is being said--and in some cases what is not being said." He adds, "Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess."

5. Make more heart decisions instead of head decisions.

The most important decisions you'll ever encounter will always be based on your feelings--it's a heart thing, not a head thing.

Not sure if you can rely on your heart just yet? OK, do this: Document every decision you make over the next three months. Look over which decisions were spot-on because you chose to rely on that "inner voice."

The better the outcome of those decisions, the more accurate your intuition is becoming--going with your heart. Learning to go with your heart is a much more effective way to make decisions than to get stuck in analysis paralysis. It's empowering, and your peers and close friends and family will look at you in a whole new way.

6. Listen more.

Imagine going about your business thinking that "this is the right way" but realizing later you were horribly mistaken. I see this in clients all the time--a tendency to plow ahead like lone rangers, convinced they have all the answers. Show me a person who does not solicit the sound advice and wisdom of others, and I'll show you an ignorant fool.

The most successful people I've ever encountered practice the skill of listening and accepting feedback because they know it will make them better. In Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, authors Don Frick and James Sipe describe these helpful approaches:

  • Listen without interruption, objections, or defensiveness. Be willing to hear the speaker out without turning the table. Ask questions for clarification.
  • Make it clear what kind of feedback you are seeking and why it is important to you. Offer a structure for the feedback--questions, rating scales, stories.
  • Be clear with your commitment. Describe how you have benefited from the feedback and what specific steps you will take toward improvement. This builds bridges and trust with others.

Published on: Mar 24, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.