Vince Lombardi, the great American sports coach once wrote: “Hi, the guy at the top of the mountain didn’t just land there!”.  To those who have done any hill walking or mountaineering this statement is one of the blindingly obvious!  The mountain top is only achieved by hard work and surmounting challenges – personal and external and by persistence possibly under adverse conditions.  Recently an 82 year old man in Scotland completed all the 3,000 foot summits or “Munros” – and he only started on his journey after reaching the age of 80!  Truly impressive.


So, what exactly did Lombardi mean by this pithy quote?  Surely, he was underlining the fact that the great teams that he coached did not achieve their success by simply turning up and playing. Reaching the top of the mountain whether it is real one like Ben Nevis or a metaphorical one such as business, sporting or personal success is an achievement.  A journey marked by training, preparation, effort, hardship and dangers, with possibly reverses and hard choices along the way.  

In short, success like mountaineering, requires hard work and commitment – whether in the office or factory, on stage or in private life. There may be an event like the release of an instant hit single by a newly discovered artist; a new piece of kit like the first Apple i-Phone that takes the world by storm or a shrewd move in the market place that astounds all the pundits that may give the appearance of instant success.  However, behind this apparently instant headlines lies months, if not years, of effort and probable failures.  What carries the person and the project through to success are several traits that all successful people possess, exhibit and invest in.  In terms of these traits, my top pick are the following. What do you think?

First there is an ethos of hard work.  Whether you are an artist, an author, sportsperson or a businessperson, success is built upon hard work.  There is a commitment to the hours of practice, the hard miles of getting your product or service developed and to the market.  In the early days there may be an extra time commitment to practices like working two jobs to make ends meet until your passion, whatever that is, is ready to fly.  It requires a certain mindset that all successful people have.

Secondly, successful people are excellent net-workers, a capacity built upon a willingness to listen and ask questions.  Not only do they know a diverse group of people, they are not cynical in their attitude to people – they value relationship, and they value people.

Trait number 3 – Successful people are endlessly curious.  They want to learn, and they have never learnt enough.  They have consistent behaviour patterns – they read, they listen to CDs in the car, watch DVDs on relevant subjects, attend seminars, talk to leaders in their field etc. They are motivated by their boundless curiosity and search for information and answers.  However, this process is not some arid search for knowledge as an end itself.  They are seeking the wisdom to boost their journey and that of others.  It is for this reason that some of our greatest inventors, product developers, businesspeople and artists have been serial ‘producers’.  For example, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Prince.

This linking of passion with hard work and curiosity is irresistible!

A by-product of the above trait is a constant working on themselves.  The pro-active development of their personality, leadership skills, relational skills, technical skills, and decision making goes hand in hand with their personal or business success.  For this reason, they are better able to deal with mistakes, failures and disasters.  They learn from these experiences and move on.  Also, as a result, they tend to live in the present and are better able to make effective decisions even under pressure.   Some of the most serially successful people have very strong team working skills and are humble about their personal achievements.

Conversely, a failure to develop this trait can lead to significant disasters when initial successes puts the person out of step with their personal development.  As a result, arrogance, egotism and something akin to omnipotence takes over as the hubris mounts.  For examples, look no further than what happened to some of our major banks in 2008.

.   Successful people do not live in or encourage a blame culture.  They have learnt to be self-reliant and take responsibility.  Not only do they develop this trait in themselves, they encourage it in their teams.  Self-reliance is learnt by a process of helping the team develop appropriate solutions, rather than constantly giving them answers.

Successful people not only live comfortably in the present, because they have not let past bad events or experiences fester, they are also future orientated.  As a result, they are constantly probing and questioning how things are done, asking the question ‘Why not?’  They fully buy into the concept that if we want things to be different, then things have to change.  A different tomorrow does not just happen (at least the one that we desire) – it has to be shaped today!  They are also in the best position to make the right decision quickly and for the right reasons. 

To recap, long term successful people are greater than the sum of their apparent parts!  Their combination of clear purpose and gaols, hard work, relational skills, insatiable curiosity, working on themselves, emotional intelligence and forward momentum in life is unbeatable.  It is a universal tool for any situation – personal relations, personal growth, business success and leisure activities.  Nor are these traits a gift to the elite few.  They can be learnt and applied by all of us, whether we are developing a micro business, working as an employee, leading a major multinational, or seeking a more coherent family life.

Reach for the Top!

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