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Traits of Successful People: A CEO's Charge For Excellence

By Tom Northup |

Leadership is the art of achieving goals with and through the people in the organization.

Effective CEOs encourage their employees to be personally successful because they understand personal success translates to organizational success. Successful people build successful organizations.

Three characteristics of successful people:

  • Positive mental attitude

    Successful people look for ways things can be done. They focus on strengths not limitations and break self imposed limitations brought on by low self esteem.

  • Self motivation

    They wind their own clock. They are self starters.

  • Goal direction

    They know where they stand, where they want to go and how they are going to get there.

These traits are interrelated. Strengthen one and all strengthen. Success breeds more success as momentum builds.


A much quoted study found that the 3% of the population with a specific written plan was financially independent and out produced by 10 to 100 times another group with only general goals.

Success is goal directed action. Success does not come when you have reached your goal but when you make that first step towards a goal. Every action towards your goal is success that brings you closer to the end result.

The good news is that goal direction is a skill that can be learned. Effective CEOs provide goal training and instill goal direction through the planning process. They ensure expected results as they hold themselves and their organization accountable.

Great achievements are possible when employees are able to meet their personal goals as they help the company meet its goals. Effective CEOs build an environment where personal and organizational goals are complementary.


Motivation is comprised of two words; motive and action. Motivation is the reason, the purpose for an action. Motivation means movement towards a goal. Motivation is goal directed action.

In the business world motivation is often fear or incentive based. Both have the characteristic of being externally generated and temporary in nature. Someone else provides the motivation so it is temporary and may be changed at any time.

The threat of losing your bonus is an example of fear. Over time people build immunity to fear. They work just hard enough to get the job done and check their actions before making a commitment. In this environment people don't grow and develop their potential.

Incentives can be part of the compensation plan or rewards for a job well done. A sales incentive plan is an example. Incentives can be very effective in the short run. However, today's incentive plan often becomes tomorrow's expectation. As the reward is expected, the incentive must increase.

Self motivation is different. It is internal to each individual and it is permanent in that it is uniquely ours. We motivate ourselves. When we work and live this way we have more control over our lives than we ever realized. Picture a thorough bred horse running for the thrill of running. The joy and excitement of doing something we love bring great achievement and meaning to our lives.

Positive Mental Attitude

Which would you rather have as an employee or co-worker, a person with a positive attitude and average skills or a person with better skill and a negative attitude?

Effective leaders understand that attitude is everything. Success is heightened when we look for ways to accomplish our goals rather than making excuses.

It is difficult to tell the difference between winners and losers. They dress alike, eat in the same restaurants, shop in the same stores and work in the same offices. The difference is the attitude they have, their behavior and the results they achieve.

Winners have an attitude of confident expectation that they can turn any situation into a positive advantage. Their behaviors are positive; they listen and learn. The result of their attitude and behavior is their peak performance.

The difference between the average and very successful person is actually quite small. The successful person doesn't work three times as hard. Effective CEOs recognize that they can develop the slight edge in people that makes the performance difference. They create an abundance attitude and positive expectancy within their people.

Build Success Traits

There are four action steps effective CEOs use to build success traits in their management team:

  • Build a positive work environment.
  • People respond to their environment. Build an environment where people want to be and want to do their best.

  • Encourage people to stretch for professional development.
  • Most people want to progress and grow. Effective leaders make a point of learning what motivates their employees and then giving personal and organizational encouragement.

  • Strive for excellence.
  • Help people hold themselves accountable for their personal goals. Hold them accountable for organizational goals.

  • Share power for personal commitment to key initiatives.
  • An effective leader understands that sharing power is the most effective way to build personal motivation. When participants take intellectual and emotional ownership of the initiative they become part of the solution and develop personal commitment to the outcome.

Build Self Esteem

Effective leaders understand attitude is everything and is affected by our self esteem. Our self esteem is the sum of our conditioning from an early age. Leaders can help raise self esteem of their employees by helping them:

  • Avoid comparison to others.
  • When we compare ourselves to others we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. There is always someone with better experience, a more polished speaker or better looking. The only relevant comparison to make is to our capabilities from a previous period. The personal improvement we make from yesterday to today is what is truly important.

  • Resist putting yourself down.
  • Don't let the person in the mirror become a block. Understand your starting point and set a goal to make a change. Once you have a goal you are actively working towards success comes not at the end of the battle, but as the culmination of a game. Everyday you are working towards the culmination of your long range goals.

  • Improve a discipline in some part of your life.
  • Work that is directed towards the fulfillment of your goals provides a reason for doing more and doing it better each day. When you consistently do the right things, you feel better about yourself and regularly reach a higher plateau.

  • Celebrate small victories.
  • Recognize that the steps you complete towards your goals are positive accomplishments and take you closer to your final objective. You raise your effectiveness every day.


The difference between being average and successful is small; a successful person doesn't work harder. For this reason effective CEOs are always working to strengthen success traits in themselves and their employees.

Personal and organizational success go hand in hand. When employees are able to meet their personal goals as they help the organization meet its goals great achievements are possible. Effective CEOs build an environment where personal and organizational goals are complementary.

They build a positive work environment where people can stretch for excellence. They share power with their management team to bring the full effect of personal motivation to organizational initiatives.

Effective CEOs build an organization of committed people who together are able to accomplish great feats. They believe the adage -

"Self motivation is the power that raises you to any level you seek"

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