Smarts Alone Will Not Guarantee Your Career Success

Last Sunday, the New York Times business section had an interview with Mike Sheehan, CEO of Hill Holliday, an ad agency. He noted that he likes to hire smart people, but that being smart is not enough to guarantee your career success. Mr. Sheehan says that smart people are good at assimilating their observations. But he wants people who are not only smart, but have the ability to turn their observations into insight. In other words, being smart is not enough to guarantee your life and career success.

This got me thinking about a point I often make to my career success coaching clients. I call it the biggest myth about life and career success. I begin my latest career success book, Climbing the Corporate Ladder (which is now an bestseller in a couple of categories by the way) discussing this myth. Here’s what I had to say…

In early 2011 I was reading an article about Robert Redford in the AARP Magazine – unfortunately, I’m old enough to be a member. He said, “When I got into this business, I had this naïve idea that I would let my work speak for me.” That made me sit up and take notice because I’d heard something similar the week before.

I had been invited to do a talk for the Women’s Mentoring Group at one of my large corporate clients. I was speaking with the coordinator and she pulled out a list of things that often times are career success blockers for women. One of the things on the list was “thinking that your work will speak for itself.”

For many years I have been telling my career success clients that when it comes to creating your life and career success, there is one huge myth that can get in your way. That myth is, “Good performance is enough,” or “your work will speak for itself.”

Yes, you have to be a good performer to create your life and career success. But good performance alone will not result in creating the life and career success you want and deserve. I learned this the hard way. In today’s highly competitive world, good performance is merely the price of admission to the career success sweepstakes.

Besides being smart, besides working hard and doing good work, you have to know and follow seven simple but powerful common sense principles. Climbing the Corporate Ladder is based on these seven ideas. Apply these principles and you will be on your way to unstoppable life and career success…

1. Clarity of purpose and direction

2. Commitment to taking personal responsibility for your life and career

3. Unshakeable self-confidence

4. Outstanding performance

5. Positive personal impact

6. Dynamic communication

7. Relationship building

There are three keys to developing your clarity of purpose and direction. You have to…

  • Define what success means to you personally.
  • Create a vivid mental picture of yourself as a success.
  • Clarify your personal values.

There are three keys to committing to your success. You have to…

  • Take personal responsibility for your success.
  • Set high goals – and do whatever it takes to achieve them.
  • Choose to respond positively to people and events.

There are three keys to becoming self-confident. You have to…

  • Choose optimism. Believe in your heart of hearts that today will be better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better than today.
  • Face your fears and act. Don’t let your fears paralyze you into inaction. Self-confident people act.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Jettison the nay-sayers in your life.

There are four keys to becoming an outstanding performer. You have to…

  • Keep your skills up to date by becoming a lifelong learner.
  • Understand the numbers. Business runs on numbers. Get to know the finances of your company and your industry.
  • Manage your time, life and stress well.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle.

There are four keys to creating positive personal impact. You have to…

  • Be strong of character
  • Create and nurture your unique personal brand.
  • Be impeccable in your presentation of self – in person and on line.
  • Know and follow the basic rules of business etiquette.

There are three keys to becoming a dynamic communicator. You have to…

  • Communicate well in conversation.
  • Communicate well in writing.
  • Communicate well in presentations.

There are three keys to building strong relationships. You have to…

  • Understand yourself. Use this self understanding to better understand others.
  • Pay it forward. Give with no expectation of return.
  • Resolve conflict in a manner that strengthens, not destroys, the relationships you’ve worked hard to build.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense. Being smart, or letting your work speak for yoursel,f is not enough to create the life and career success you want and deserve. There are seven keys to life and career success. You have to clarify the purpose and direction for your life and career; Commit to taking personal responsibility for your career success; build unshakeable self-confidence; become an outstanding performer; create positive personal impact; become a dynamic communicator and build strong, lasting mutually beneficial relationships with the important people in your life. Learn and apply these seven keys and you’ll be on your way to the life and career success you want and deserve.

That’s the career advice prompted by Mike Sheehan’s comment that being smart is not enough to guarantee your career success. What do you think? Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment. And, as always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success. I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, I suggest that you check out my career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained. The first gives you 140 bits of career success advice tweet style — in 140 characters or less. The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail. Go to to claim your free copy. You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: Have you seen my membership site, My Corporate Climb? It’s devoted to helping people just like you create career success inside large corporations. You can find out about it by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.



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