The 5 things no one really tells you about success

If asked how I rose to my position as CEO of a global company and what someone should do to achieve similar success, in the past I would have said: “work hard and get promoted.” If pushed, I might add “volunteer for things,” but that was generally the extent of it. Over time, though, I realized there are certain principles you can follow to make sure you’re moving ahead in your career.  

Here they are.

Take real risks

You sometimes need to get out of your comfort zone and take risks or you may be left behind. It can be scary and no one likes to fail, but if you don’t put yourself out there and try, you will never know. In sixth grade, my daughter Danielle announced she was running for class president. I admired her passion and didn’t want the experience to discourage her or dampen her confidence and enthusiasm. I told her I was very proud she was willing to take this risk and that she had little to lose. I suggested we have a get together with a dozen of her friends, win or lose. Danielle didn’t win the election, but to this day, she remembers the experience with fondness rather than disappointment. Always puts yourself forward for new opportunities and ask for what you want.

Become extremely resilient  

Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Melon University who wrote a book called The Last Lecture. Before Randy died of pancreatic cancer, I had the chance to work with him. One of the many things I took from Randy was his attitude about brick walls. “The brick walls are there for a reason,” he said. “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”

Rise above your peers

As you embark upon your work life, you will learn things they don’t teach you in university. In her first job right out of college, Danielle noticed there was a clique among her co-workers—a group of people who ordered lunch together and went out for Happy Hour drinks. After several months, she still couldn’t break through to the inner circle, so she turned to me for advice.

“Work isn’t high school,” I told her simply.

I reminded her she had many other friends and at work, it was less important to be popular than it was to be successful. In high school there is a hierarchy that doesn’t change. In an organization, unlike in high school, hard work, smarts, and dedication can put you ahead.

Less than a year into that job, Danielle’s manager left and she was promoted into his role. Since the team was short-staffed, she took on extra work and people began to rely on her. The clique saw Danielle in a different light and, finally, she started to feel like she fit in. The funny thing is, by the time that happened, she was on her way to a leadership role and didn’t care as much. Danielle had learned there is a difference between being friends and being friendly, and this is an important distinction as you move up the ladder.

Get close to human resources

No matter what your role is now and where you would like to go in the near and far future, if your company has a Human Resources (HR) department, group, business partner, or person responsible for optimizing talent, you should take advantage of that fact. Reach out and meet your HR representative. Your HR rep can be a great advocate. In addition to identifying training courses that might be appropriate to learn new skills, HR reps can help you scout out opportunities to volunteer for extracurricular activities, introduce you to people of influence, and serve as a sounding board if you run into difficulties. The bottom line? HR can assist in ways you cannot imagine yet! So, once you’ve made an initial connection, ask your rep if you can touch base every few months to share your progress, get feedback, and discuss any issues.

Take on projects beyond your job description

My strategy for standing out has always involved volunteering. Volunteering has been a great way to learn new things, meet a broader group of people, and increase exposure. In one instance, when I was a salesperson, my company wanted to create pricing manual, so I offered to do it. A short time after completing the document, there was an opening for a sales manager. Several of us were equally qualified, but because of the visibility I’d acquired from the pricing manual, I was the one selected. This promotion jump-started my career as a manager. What if your company doesn’t have committees or task forces for you to join? See if you can create one. Identify something that needs improvement and lead a group to provide recommendations. Start a business book club. Be a buddy for a new hire. If you attend a training class or a business event or conference, summarize the learnings and share them with your team. Or, organize a “Lunch ‘n Learn” on a topic with which you have some experience.


Adapted with permission of the publisher, Motivational Press, Inc., from MOM.B.A. Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next 
by Karyn Schoenbart with Alexandra Levit.  Copyright (c) 2017 by Karyn Schoenbart. All rights reserved.