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Former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead.

There are two ways to look at what it takes to have a satisfying and rewarding career.

The first is to define the actions one should take based on more theoretical precepts of career development advocated by both the academic and consulting communities. The second is to observe what successful people actually do in the real world that make them successful and follow their lead.

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Young professionals should be influenced more by positive practical outcomes than what experts preach should theoretically work.

Certainly a solid theoretical framework offered by the teaching community is important; success usually requires a solid platform of knowledge to build from.

But a thorough understanding of the esoteric concepts of academia alone can not be relied upon as a prescription for success, for there are many people with multiple letters after their name who are incredibly brilliant but cannot claim a breakthrough career.

The tipping point for a successful career is to study and act on what successful individuals achieved and how they delivered their results. Layered over a solid knowledge foundation, this should influence young people in deciding on their career strategy and recipe for success.

Over my 30-year-plus journey in business, I have had the good fortune to witness and work with many successful people. They consistently demonstrated these five traits.

1. They had a basic schooling background but their credentials were nothing extraordinary. Yes, some were MBAs, professional engineers and the like, but more didn't have this level of education.

Out of any 10 people I hired for management positions, eight would have a more technical academic background combined with practical experience as opposed to a pure theoretical focus. For me, it was more important that job candidates know how to apply what they learned, rather thanwhat they learned.

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2. They found mentors very early in their career. In fact, many had discovered someone to guide them while they were completing their schooling.

Also, their choice of a mentor was influenced more by what the person had achieved and not by the prestige of the position they held. They understood that progress and success were more a function of what a leader was able to accomplish in a very complicated, unpredictable and unstable world rather than their intellectual competency.

3. They had a strong "try it" background. Their résumé was replete with stories of the challenges they undertook, including those that succeeded and others that ended in failure. And for the failures, they were quick to point out what they learned from the experience with a vow to never repeat it.

But the underlying theme was that they were not risk-averse. They tried stuff and didn't shy away from talking about what worked and what didn't.

4. They constantly challenged the status quo. The successful ones were very uncomfortable with the momentum created by past action. They wanted to disrupt the current path they were on, create a new force driven by introducing creative innovative methods to common challenges.

And their source of innovation was unlike others. They created fresh new approaches rather than relying on benchmarking and best practices. To copy someone else's idea was repugnant to them.

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5. They cared about the people around them. They would go out of their way to help colleagues, give them advice if asked and be there for support whenever it was needed – they had the backs of those close to them.

And they didn't have a single narcissistic bone in their body, always shy of taking the credit they so richly deserved and quickly handing the plaudits to someone else.

Successful careers are not built by living in a bubble; rather, they are built by successfully navigating the complications of an organization living in a messy world.

Millennials should be guided by career choices made by those who achieved positive outcomes in spite of the mess.

Executives, employees, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

Strategic IQ is more about understanding how other people are going to behave. This is a skill that is hardly developed in formal education, which would cause some people to believe that this is a born skill Special to Globe and Mail Update
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