What is the key to success? Is it knowing the right people, or is it all about the right timing? Perhaps you think success is a systematic progression through the course of your career. But what is the key to it all?
Success comes from having the ability to influence others to act upon your ideas, suggestions, advice and experience. If you lack preparation when you meet the right people, find the right time or walk up your career ladder, will you still succeed? Probably not.
Forget the notion that some people are born with an innate ability to influence others, that their natural-born talent and charisma is enough to move them up the ladder. It's simply not true. Stephen King once said, “What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Even the most talented professionals will fail to succeed without concentrated efforts to improve their influence.
Influence means impacting others in a way that builds your credibility and grows their trust in you. It is not a skill you’re born with; instead, it is one you acquire with time and a commitment to practice. That commitment to practice helps us push past our current levels of competence. There are no shortcuts. To improve, it takes time and deliberate practice focusing on skills beyond your comfort zone. It requires honest feedback, committed coaches and honest self-assessments after every interaction.
Brandon Steiner, founder and CEO of Steiner Sports Memorabilia, said, “Success is a path. Significance is a path and journey.” You must take the time to enhance your influence if you want to be significant. The only way to do that is with these four steps:
1. Pursue Quality
Teaching yourself a new skill is possible, but the quality of your skill may be lackluster compared to what a coach can teach you. Think about professional athletes or musicians. They all had a coach who observed them and called attention to minor details that they may have otherwise missed. Even the very best in their field could grow their skills with a coach guiding their practice, focus and energy. Coaches accelerate your learning by guiding you on paths that they observe to be logical, or that they themselves have pursued. Coaches give constructive feedback that focuses your time and concentration in a way that creates immediate momentum.
2. Deliberate Practice
Not all practice makes perfect, but all practice does make permanent. Be deliberate in the skills you practice. Instead of focusing on what you already do well, focus on what you don’t know well. If a communications coach says your handshake is solid but your eye contact needs work, don’t continue working on your handshake. Instead, make a concentrated effort to connect with the eyes of your listener in every interaction. Allow yourself to feel the awkwardness of unnatural behaviors until they become second nature. If your coach says your communication style in meetings is warm and receptive but your emails come across as abrupt and rude, focus your efforts on that. Put your energy into the skill that needs work until it becomes your new normal.
3. Concentrated Efforts
Approach every interaction with a plan. If you are drafting a text message in response to a client, stop to consider first how you want the listener to receive the message. Think about what you want the reader to feel and how you want them to act upon receiving it. The same applies to face-to-face meetings or exchanges. Whether you are heading into a planned meeting or just making impromptu conversations in the hallway, pause first to consider whom you are meeting and how you want them to respond. When you concentrate your efforts, you reduce the risk of miscommunication, which must be corrected later.
Concentrated efforts also force you to stay focused. It challenges you to remain aware of your situation and your behavior, leaving nothing to chance. This helps your mind proactively prepare for interactions, stay present in the moment and reflect on the exchange afterward.
4. Start Right
The pursuit of success doesn’t happen overnight. It is the culmination of days, weeks, months and even years of concentrated practice on the right influence skills. Ask yourself each day, “What is the most important thing I can do to be a more effective communicator?” Choose one thing you will commit to working on throughout every interaction and exchange. Make a choice each day to improve your skills and focus your efforts.
Influence is the key to significance, and significance is the key to success. It is a skill learned and acquired through years of deliberate practice, honest feedback, concentrated efforts and a commitment to ongoing improvement.