The Three Traits that are A Magic Formula for Workplace Success

By James A. Runde 

The Magic Formula of Ability, Opportunity, and Courage result in countless examples of successful careers. These three attributes can make such a big difference in the performance of employees. Why are Ability, Opportunity and Courage the deciding factors in career success?

 

People will tell you there is no Magic Formula for success in the workplace. I disagree. In my 40-year banking career, I have seen the Magic Formula of Ability, Opportunity, and Courage result in countless examples of successful careers. These three attributes can make such a big difference in the performance of employees that firms like Deutsche Bank are now screening potential hires for it.

Why are Ability, Opportunity and Courage the deciding factors in career success?

 

Ability

In today’s fast-paced and turbulent world of professional services, it is no longer enough to work long hours and demonstrate proficiency in your respective field. To get ahead as an investment banker, lawyer, consultant, or accountant in today’s competitive world, you must find a way to succeed on teams and on projects while also distinguishing yourself as an individual. Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor your own and other people’s emotions, to distinguish between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use this information to guide your thinking and behaviour. According to a study by American Express,1 EQ is the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership2 and personal excellence. EQ can help you to understand the corporate culture and its unwritten rules, relate to bosses, colleagues, and clients, and become a top-level performer – even in the first year on the job.

 

Opportunity

Employment opportunities come to you through your immediate boss and your network. If you master the parameters of your current job, then your boss should identify opportunities that will allow you to grow your skill set and motivate you to progress. A good boss will help you to map a career growth plan and provide opportunities for you to step up. These new opportunities will allow you to expand your skill set, confidence, and competencies. This could mean increased exposure to clients, more responsibility on an engagement, an opportunity to lead a team, and so on.

Networking is an approach that can broaden the number of people you know, the number of people who know you and the number of opportunities you are presented during your career. People who network are more likely to advance by better connecting the dots to a successful career. Networking is the key to developing relationships, differentiating yourself internally and expanding your career opportunities. If you have a solid network, then you will find out when a new opportunity is about to arise and you can check a new job offer with people in your network to make sure that you are making a wise decision. Networking was crucial to me as a junior person in professional services, and it is just as critical to me today. Networking can benefit you at every point in your career and can lead to finding sponsors who can change your career trajectory.

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Courage

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill, United Kingdom Prime Minister

The right mentor can help you discover your inner strength and provide you the extra dose of confidence you need to make the right decision, move forward, or face reality rather than live in denial.

Mentors and sponsors can give you courage to succeed in your career. Mentors are willing to use their experience to help you navigate through your organisation and to provide advice and guidance for your career. They can help you determine and articulate your strengths – what you do well and what differentiates you from others at your level. Mentors can tell you how others in your organisation perceive you. They can see opportunities for you that you cannot see for yourself. Unlike a mentor, a sponsor will take a risk on you, has the power or authority to put you in a higher position, and is there for you when you need someone to back you up. A sponsor will connect you to important players and assignments that will open new doors for you and help guide you through your career. Even the best mentors cannot assist you if you do not have the courage to tell them your concerns and fears. Telling anyone you feel confused or inadequate requires enough humility to show your vulnerability. The right mentor can help you discover your inner strength and provide you the extra dose of confidence you need to make the right decision, move forward, or face reality rather than live in denial. Do you remember the lion in The Wizard of Oz, who went to see the great and powerful wizard? The lion thought he lacked courage, but his real problem was that he did not believe in himself. The wizard, acting as a mentor, gave the lion a medal marked “courage”, which was just the confidence boost the lion needed. Acknowledge your concerns and fears when talking with your mentor. Be open to discussing those issues with your mentor and listen to the advice your mentor gives you.

I have seen this Magic Formula transform the careers of those who have believed and applied it.  Here is an example. A client was promoting its investor relations (IR) director to CFO, and therefore the IR job was going to be open. The assistant treasurer of the client, a woman named Kelly, called me to say that the IR job opening was not yet announced and asked for my advice.

 Kelly was well qualified for the IR position. Specifically, she worked at the client company for seven years in various positions and had a well-rounded understanding of the company; she had strong analytical and quantitative skills; she was adept with financial data; she was a highly regarded team player with an extensive network; she was discreet and knew how to handle confidential information; she was an excellent communicator; and she had a strong academic record.

 When Kelly called me to ask my advice, I mentioned the Magic Formula to her and I said she clearly had the Ability and her network and reputation were giving her the Opportunity to raise her hand and apply for the job.

Kelly agreed, but said she was not sure she could handle the IR job with its exposure to the CEO and rigorous financial analyses required. I told Kelly that I knew the IR job looked like a big leap for her, but I was confident she would do an excellent job in that role and that I was happy to call her CEO to endorse her.

I also gave Kelly the following advice:

– Make an appointment to see your boss so you have her attention.
– Do not ask for her permission to apply for the IR job, but tell your boss that you are interested in maintaining a good relationship with her and you want her to be the first person that hears about your interest in the IR spot.
– Tell the boss that the IR job is about to open up, you are interested in moving up in the company and you are confident your skills are a good fit for the IR position, partly because your boss has helped you expand your professional abilities.
– Assure your boss you have a replacement for your current job in mind and that you will finish all your existing tasks in good order.
– Ask the boss for her support in securing the IR position.

It might seem hard to believe that a Magic Formulas exists, but I am confident that this one will help you move up in your career. Give it a try!

Kelly thought about my advice and said my encouragement was all she needed to conquer her fear. She was going ahead on her own to express an interest in the IR position. Kelly got the IR job by proving that she had the Ability and experience to do the job, learning about the Opportunity through her network before it became common knowledge and having the Courage to raise her hand for the promotion. 

It might seem hard to believe that a Magic Formulas exists, but I am confident that this one will help you move up in your career. Give it a try!

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About the Author

James A. Runde is the author of UNEQUALED: Tips for Building a Successful Career Through Emotional Intelligence. He has worked at Morgan Stanley for over 40 years, the longest-serving investment banker at a single institution in the United States.   

References
1.
http://millennialbranding.com/2013/gen-workplace-expectations-study/
2. https://hbr.org/2015/04/how-emotional-intelligence-became-a-key-leadership-skill

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