Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” The great philosopher’s observation makes it critical to develop the habits that lead to excellence, ritualize them, and make them part of your daily life. It’s not enough to say that you will act in a certain way once you become a manager or director. You have to have the habits of excellence in place first. If you don’t have those success habits in place early in your career, you may never be tapped for that higher level postion. If you are a new graduate or experienced professional, here are some habits that you need to cultivate in order to succeed:
1. Get up early. Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” His eighteenth century wisdom continues to be correct in the twenty-first century. If you want to get ahead, try to be one of the first people into the office rather than one of the last of the morning stragglers. It is better to concentrate on difficult work before co-workers arrive.
2. Dress and groom well. It may be shallow, but people generally respond best to well groomed, well dressed, and attractive people. If you look successful, people will think you are successful, and if people think you are successful, they may want to further their own success by furthering your success. While it’s fun to be fashionble in your personal life, you should definitely dress appropriately for work. You don’t want to be the flip-flop guy in a world of wingtips. The Dress for Success era of the blue suit and red power tie may have passed in most workplaces, but business casual is even more challenging.
3. Be punctual. Being on time is a habit that shows respect to the people you meet with and it keeps your day on track. It also helps build up the aura of competence that successful people exude.
4. Tackle the critical tasks. In his most influential book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey made the point that i f you tackle the most important tasks first, you’ll accomplish the core things that you need to get done. This will make you more effective in whatever role you play.
5. Set Goals. You have to set goals in order to direct your efforts in work and in life. Without clearly defined goals, you will act in arbitrary ways that may not advance your cause. Covey also wrote that it is important to “begin with the end in mind.”
6. Deliver. When you face deadlines or make promises in your work or personal life, you need to deliver high quality results on time. When there are obstacles preventing delivery of the expected results, you need to communicate early and work to set new, more achievable, deadlines. However, a reputation for delivering results goes a long way towards success.
7. Surface Your Ideas. The first six habits are old school adages that have worked for hundreds of years, but in today’s world, it’s more important than ever to think through and raise your ideas to decision makers. You don’t want to be a replaceable cog in an organization. In his book, Linchpin, Seth Godin makes the point that it isn’t enough to quietly and competently do your job, you have to bring extra brain power, ideas, and passion to help make constructive changes and add value to your workplace.
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, 1989.
Seth Godin, Linchpin, Portfolio Hardcover, 2010.
“The Electric Ben Franklin,”USHistory.org