I was a teacher, coach, and education administrator for 44 years – 10 years at the high school level and 34 at the collegiate level. I also organized and directed basketball camps and clinics throughout America and in four European countries.
I was privileged to work with a good number of people who excelled at work, which led them to successful careers.
Through the years, I observed 6 characteristics that I thought led all the successful people I encountered to excel in their work. Here are six mindsets to adopt to excel in work and your career.
Excel in Work and Life With These Mindset Traits
The most successful people I worked with were humble from their first through their last day at work. I found that people who made it to the very top of their professions in business, education, law, or medicine were humble people. The willingness to admit that there is more to learn is the mark of an excellent leader.
Incongruously, people who were trying to excel in their work but had not reached the top were the arrogant, egotistical ones. This seemed to be a recurrent occurrence.
For its 75th anniversary, Fortune Magazine dedicated the entire publication to one concept – decision-making. They interviewed leaders from the business, military, education, and political worlds.
I thought the most insightful interview was with Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. His comment was that the most important decisions made in the last 25 years in American boardrooms, regardless of the business, all began with the leaders saying the same 3 words, “I don’t know.”
I have worked with leaders who knew. In fact, to say I worked “with” them is a misnomer. Nobody could work “with” them because they already had all the answers.
I also worked with leaders who, when tough decisions had to be made, called in their principal people. They were not afraid to say, “I don’t know how we should handle this issue, but let’s put our heads together and find the best solution.”
People who excel at work care about their fellow workers. Caring about people is one of the elements of Wellness-Centered Leadership, or leadership that is designed to empower and foster professional fulfillment.
Our basketball players at the University of St. Francis used to demonstrate for the coaches who spoke at the Chicago Nike clinics. They had to do a demonstration for an Indiana coach, Bob Knight. They were nervous because Coach Knight had a reputation for being tough on players.
The very first drill Coach gave our players was a disaster. Our guys totally messed it up. The coaches laughed.
Coach Knight went right over to the coaches and said, “If I hear any more laughing, I’m going to pick 10 of you guys to demonstrate, and the kids are going to sit in the first row and laugh at you.”
You never heard 800 coaches get so quiet so quickly!
Bob Knight showed he cared about our players, and they were excited to work with him for the rest of the clinic.
People who care show up. Successful people care.
3. Extra Mile
Successful people always do more than is expected of them.
When problems arise, people who excel at work do whatever it takes to resolve the issue. They do not have to be asked; they are always ready to go the extra mile.
My fellow coach and great friend, Jack Hermanski, worked with Special Education students. He was a “traveling” teacher who worked with students at ten schools in his district. Like many school districts, budgets were minimal in Jack’s district. Jack was committed to teaching his students and refused to let budgets impede his serving his kids.
Having to travel daily from school to school, Jack kept all his equipment in his truck. But there was something different about the equipment in Jack’s truck. He bought all of it!
Jack went the extra mile to provide his students with the best educational experience possible.
I am convinced the skill of listening can never be overemphasized. We have numerous classes in speaking in our college courses, but I believe a mandatory class in LISTENING within the general education requirements would be of more benefit to the students. Active listening imparts approachability, and it is a valued skill.
Rather than giving you my perspectives on listening, let me share the wisdom of some thought leaders on listening:
- “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill
- “Listening is one of the loudest forms of kindness.” – Anonymous
- “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” – Bernard Beruch
- “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill
- “God gave us a mouth that closes and ears that don’t. That must tell us something.” – Anonymous
- “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey
- “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I am going to learn, I must do it by listening.” – Larry King
- “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do something else at the same time.” – Scott Peck
- I never thought of this before. Have you? “The word listen has the same letters as silent.” – Alfred Brendel
People who excel at work have developed the skill of listening.
5. Continuous Learning
“The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.” Frank Zappa
Much like listening, knowledge leads to respect. Whatever your profession, you must work hard to learn all you can about it.
Back in the 1960s, I believed in weight-lifting for basketball players. This practice may have been the only time I was ahead of the proverbial curve!
We lifted two days a week during the season. We were lifting for strength – trying to ready our players for the physicality of the games. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with the Chicago Bulls’ strength training coaches. Like everyone else, they lifted for strength, but they took it one step further.
They also lifted for athleticism. They showed us some lifts that not only enhanced strength but also improved quickness. We kept an open mind and changed some of our weight training exercises.
Repetition is the mother of learning. The only way you master a physical skill is through hours of repetition.
6. Consistency of Effort
I used to think that effort was the key to athletic success. I no longer believe this for athletics or any profession. I believe the difference between good and great in any endeavor is the consistency of effort.
No one has their “A” game every day, but the great ones develop the ability and the mindset to reach down and bring the best they have every day.
Good athletes can find their best effort periodically. Great athletes have mental toughness once they tie up their shoes for practice and walk onto the field or court to reach maximum effort immediately.
In his famous Pyramid of Success, John Wooden defines success in this way:
Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.
It is critically important to accept that there are no shortcuts to success. When you can consistently bring the best you have each day, you will know how to excel in your career and how to have a success future.
To excel at work: Be humble. Be caring. Go the extra mile. Be a listener. Be a life-long learner. Bring consistency of effort.