In the documentary film chronicling her journey to superstardom, performer Katy Perry advises her fans: “Believe in yourself and you can be anything.” However, if eleven seasons of American Idol have taught us anything, it’s that self-belief is not sufficient for success. At the beginning of each season of Idol, vocalists audition in front of the judges, and some are dreadfully tone-deaf and off-key. Amazingly, despite their obvious lack of talent, these musically-challenged contestants truly believe they are destined for celebrity. In fact, they’re genuinely shocked when the judges candidly provide them with negative feedback before dismissing them from the set.
Certainly, at many junctures in the leadership journey, you must be supremely self-assured to press forward through adversity. But while self-confidence factors into a person’s success in life, a number of other qualities come into play as well. Here are six questions to ask yourself to gauge whether or not you have what it takes to reach the pinnacle of your profession.
1) Does your dream align with your natural abilities?
Olympic sprinters spend countless hours learning how to accelerate out of the starting blocks and to perfect their stride. With years of practice, they’re able to shave off precious fractions of a second off of the time it takes them to complete a race. However, in actuality, every world-class sprinter began his or her athletic career with loads of inborn ability. Absent of God-given talent, the average person, even after years of disciplined training, could not hope to keep pace with these elite runners.
In my experience, a person can only improve about one or two notches above their natural talent in a given area. For example, if on a scale of 1-10 you happen to be a “3” as a singer, then taking voice lessons and music appreciation courses may lift you to a “4.” If you’re especially diligent in studying how to sing, you may even improve to a “5.” Even so, you’ve only improved from bad to average—and people don’t pay to hear an average singer. The formula for success is to build your career around skills in which you’re already a “7” or an “8” and to spend your time perfecting them.
Food for Thought: In what ways are you naturally gifted? That is, in what areas are you already a “7” or an “8”?
2) Can you handle stress?
A stress fracture occurs in the body, not from a single injury, but from repeatedly putting too much weight on a bone. In a like manner, leaders do not generally break down from an inability to handle a particularly busy stretch on the job. Rather, they crack as a result of taking on the stresses of work, day after day, without finding healthy release valves for the pressure. They let the demands of the office crowd out the joys of relationships with loved ones. Or, they allow the responsibilities of leadership prevent them from experiencing the beauty of nature or the healthfulness of exercise. Eventually, the repeated stress of work becomes too much, and they suffer a broken relationship, physical ailment, or mental illness.
Food for Thought: Which person in your life does the most to lift your spirits? How often do you spend time with him or her? Which outdoor recreational activity does the most to replenish your energy? How often do you get to participate in the activity?
3) Are you comfortable with risk?
I think it’s unfortunate that risk-taking has taken on the connotation of gambling or recklessness. Many times inaction, rather than action, is the most dangerous path. With a doubt, failure to innovate and adjust spells certain doom in today’s fast-paced world of evolving technologies.
Experience has shown me that taking risks has specific advantages. First, you learn things faster than the people who don’t take risks. Second, you have a broader range of experiences than those who stay safely within their comfort zone. Third, you bump into obstacles sooner than the people who play it safe, and fourth, you learn to improvise in order to get around those obstacles. Risk-takers are not smarter than the other guys; they just fail faster and thus get their education more quickly.
Food for Thought: What risks have you taken in your career? What have you learned from taking them?
4) Do you have strong people skills?
Our ability to build and maintain healthy relationships largely determines our enjoyment of life. Indeed, we usually can trace our successes and failures to our relationships. Consequently, getting along with people is virtually a precondition for effective leadership.
Leaders build business relationships in four stages. At the first level, people knowledge, understanding what others need aids a leader in building influence. In the second level, service skills—a leader’s ability to attend to people’s needs proactively—expand a leader’s influence. At the third level of business relationships, a leader’s reputation attracts customers. At this stage, a leader’s track record for treating others honestly and with respect pays significant dividends. Finally, at the fourth level, personal friendship with fellow influencers paves the way for tremendous synergies and opportunities for partnership.
Food for Thought: What prevents people from being aware of the effect they have on others?
5) Are you creative in problem solving?
A creative leader actually enjoys not knowing it all. Such a person realizes that though we seldom have all the answers; we always have the ability to generate solutions to whatever difficulties we encounter. In leadership, problems are unavoidable. However, the attitude a leader brings to those problems is optional. Creative leaders search for opportunities within the obstacles they face. Instead of complaining about challenges, they welcome them as catalysts for growth.
Food for Thought: Can a person intentionally become more creative? If so, how? If not, why?
6) Are you competitive?
If you always draw back when presented with a challenge, then you’ll never make it to the top. To develop as an influencer, you must revel in the chance to you're your strength as opposed to shrinking from challenges. Ideally, competition isn’t about separating winners and losers, but sharpening the skills of all competitors.
I like how Paul Lee Tan’s describes the benefits of competition:
“My competitors do more for me than my friends do. My friends are too polite to point out my weaknesses, but my competitors go to great expense to advertise them. My competitors are efficient, diligent and attentive. They force me to search for ways to improve my technique and my service. My competitors would take my customers away from me if they could. This keeps me alert to hold what I have. If I had no competitors, I might become complacent and inattentive. I need the discipline they force upon me.”
Food for Thought: At what point does competition become destructive rather than productive?