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Former BMO chief economist Sherry Cooper. (Joanne Ratajczak)
Former BMO chief economist Sherry Cooper. (Joanne Ratajczak)

LEADERSHIP LAB

Sherry Cooper’s formula for success Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

The key attributes of successful people are remarkably similar, regardless of their choice of fields. I am often asked by young people and their parents where the best opportunities are, as though success were determined by economic factors – the pursuit of a career in a growth sector. Instead, I believe that potential lies within the individual and is determined by a set of attributes and behaviours that can be applied to any field. Here is a list of the eight indispensable characteristics of successful people:

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1. Passion is essential. Doing what you love is key to any successful endeavour. If you do what makes your heart sing, chances are you will be good at it. What’s more, passion is contagious and energizes those around you. Follow your dreams and dream big. Anything else is a cop-out, and forget about the money. If you follow your dreams, the money will come.

2. Energy is closely linked to passion. Doing something you love gives you the energy required to achieve your goals. It takes hard work – very hard work – to shine in today’s complex and volatile world. The willingness to put in the 10,000 hours required to master a skill, any skill, is essential. That includes the ability to write, speak, engage and motivate – all essential to reach your full potential.

3. Perseverance is the difference between mediocrity and success. No one achieves anything meaningful without hitting roadblocks, experiencing failures and overcoming adversity. Indeed, these disappointments and difficulties hone your skills and redirect your energies. All failures must be seen as opportunities to reroute and reinvent. That is a winner’s mentality. Never give up and never let naysayers defeat you. Unfortunately, there will always be people who question your judgment and criticize your decisions. You can listen, but let it roll off you. Believe in yourself.

4 . A willingness to surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good, and dispose of destructive and dysfunctional relationships. That includes bad work relationships. If your boss is unsupportive and demeaning, get out. You will never succeed under such a negative force.

5. Focus is essential. It is what psychologists call being in the flow. Any real achievement requires hours of uninterrupted concentration, which is increasingly difficult with the constant bombardment of e-mail. Anything worth doing is worth doing singlemindedly, which is the antithesis of today’s multitasking ethos.

6. Efficacy – the power or capacity to produce a desired effect – is crucial to your well-being. Take ownership of your power. You determine your destiny, not your biography. Regardless of your circumstances, you and you alone can make things happen. The defining factor in success is not resources, but resourcefulness. Passivity is the antithesis of resourcefulness.

7. The determination to push yourself. Take the stretch assignment or, as Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says, Lean In. Move outside your comfort zone; it is the only way to learn, and lifelong learning is crucial. The body of knowledge is growing so rapidly that anyone wishing to succeed must keep reading, adapting and learning new skills.

8. Innovation. Creativity is the essence of meeting competitive pressures. Anyone who remains the same is falling behind as the pace of change is relentless. As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Yet most of us do not like change, which lets those who embrace change stand out and rise to the top.

Sherry Cooper (@DrSherryCooper) is TMX professor of financial economics at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University and former chief economist and executive vice-president at Bank of Montreal.

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