5 Secrets for Career Success

Check out this exclusive excerpt from Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work (St. Martin’s Press) and learn the secrets to career success.

Eric Sinoway and Merrill Meadow
3-minute read

5 Secrets for Career Success

and Merrill Meadow

For over 40 years, Howard H. Stevenson has taught, counseled, and mentored countless students at Harvard Business School.  The approximately 10,000 students who have passed through Howard’s doors include George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and every doctoral student who graduated HBS for almost 20 years.  His former students hold leadership positions in non-profit organizations, businesses, and governments around the world. 

A beneficiary of Howard’s wisdom and friendship, Eric Sinoway decided to share these invaluable lessons with the world. The result is Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work (St. Martin’s Press).

Here is an exclusive excerpt from the book outlining Howard’s top 5 secrets for career success:

1.         Interview your boss carefully. The famed Apple computer designer Jonathan Ive – the man largely responsible for the creation of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad – is the same person who created the much derided and failed Apple Newton of the 1980s.  Working with former Apple CEO John Sculley as his boss, Ive was a frustrated, largely floundering mid-level designer.  Free to let his creativity flow under Steve Jobs, Ive became one of the most successful designers of our time.  Your boss will likely impact your life – and certainly your career – as much as any other single person.  Be sure you pick him or her carefully. 

2.         Be explicit about your bets.  Be honest with yourself about what it is that you’re trying to achieve in your job.  Are you trying to learn a certain skill?  Reach a certain level of responsibility?  Earn a certain amount of money?  Write down in as much detail as you can what it is that you are betting you will achieve in this particular role and the timeframe over which you are striving to do it.  Better to define the specific skills, relationships, milestones, and deliverables you hope to achieve in X period of time than to broadly desire something like a “promotion in the next three years.”

3.         Understand the difference between assets and income.  We each earn income and build assets in our jobs.  Understand the difference and evaluate the value of both.   Income comprises things that occur continuously and includes things like salary, the joy we get from associating with colleagues, and the interesting experiences we may have in our daily activities.   Assets build over time and include monetary items like the potential accumulation of equity – but also include skills and relationships we build, and knowledge we gain.  Non-monetary assets are often overlooked, but have immense value over the long-term.

4.         Build a team.  Assemble a group of people invested in your success.  We call this group an IBOD – an individual board of directors.  Identify a small group of people whose opinion you value and explicitly ask if you may call upon them with questions and for help.  Don’t just ask a group of friends.  Choose 6–10 former professors, classmates, and other people you consider interesting and impressive. Make sure they have different backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives to be available to assist you as you begin your career.

5.         Don’t cheat at solitaire.  Most of us are not very good at most things.  We may have basic competency in a wide range of areas, but, for the vast majority of us, we excel in only a few areas.  Cheating at solitaire occurs when we tell ourselves that we have the skill and ability to achieve goals we have set for ourselves – when an objective assessment would conclude that we likely do not.  It is this gap between what we want to achieve in a particular area and our lack of a competitive advantage – excellence versus others – that too often results in disappointment, frustration, and disillusionment.  Better to start with an honest assessment of the areas where we do have distinguishable advantages – and then align our goals with those strengths.

Find more career and life wisdom in Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work (St. Martin’s Press) by Eric Sinoway with Merrill Meadow.