The Secret Ingredients to Propelling Your Way to the Top

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How to Use Common Sense Combined With Persistence, Perspiration and Performance to Succeed.

Have you ever said to yourself, How in the world did (pick your own business hero's name) get to the top of the corporate ladder? He's not any smarter than I am! Well, chances are you're right. However what he has are three non-glamorous but crucial qualities: focus, discipline, and follow-up which translate into having the persistence and the willingness to add a bit of perspiration to the effort. These ingredients produce the bottom line of superior, consistent performance, with a dose of plain old-fashioned common sense that drives every successful undertaking.

These qualities might not sound extraordinary, but they can truly set you apart. I've used them during my career and they work. I launched a number of successful business ventures, including OfficeMax and my newest business, Max-Wellness, a new and unique health and wellness chain.

Just make sure that you constantly work with focus and discipline, and always, always remember that follow-up is a crucial ingredient of getting the results you want -- whether you're launching a start-up, leading a team of employees, or going after that big promotion.

Before you ever craft your next important strategy or walk into a client meeting, whether or not you have a chance of success has already been decided by how you think about your work, what you have to do, and how you do it. Outcomes are shaped by your focus, discipline and commitment to follow-up ... or lack thereof. It's important to remember that achievements are often less dependent on your technical knowhow and more dependent on how you organize and think. Here are my not-so-secret secrets to try:


Take good notes.

Taking notes in business is just as important as in the most difficult course you ever lived through and actually passed. Your brain isn't always as powerful as you think it is, and having a written record of your boss's project analysis or your colleague's sales strategy can save you from having "OMG" moments, and can set you apart from the pack and put you on a straighter path to success.

I'll frequently dictate the notes from a meeting the second I walk out, or appoint someone to act as a scribe beforehand. I keep all of my past notes in a folder on my computer, and I also always make sure to jot down next steps. These habits ensure that nothing falls off the radar unintentionally, and that I always have a good idea of what needs to happen next. Oh -- and I often initially shock associates by writing the letters 'FU' and a date at the bottom of my notes. New people are always relieved when they learn that those letters aren't a pejorative, but shorthand I use as a reminder to 'Follow Up' by a specific date!


Do what you say you will, period.

In today's dog-eat-dog environment, a person's word isn't always his or her bond; it's who you are and how you get things done. When you fail to follow through on promises and commitments, you imply that you lack discipline, and perhaps shouldn't be trusted with more important tasks and objectives. However, if you cultivate a reputation for being completely reliable, you'll enjoy more responsibility and success as well as better business relationships.

I routinely tell my employees that I'm not their father and won't babysit them, and that if they tell me they're going to do something, they'd better make good on that assurance. I can't afford to have people on my team who are undependable. Do your homework and learn to give homework assignments to those who work for you and with you. It sets the tone and, while striving to become a leader, it causes people to think and discover alternatives. It's a great way to determine who you can rely on and who is capable of taking a project to the next level.

If you are assigned the homework, approach the assignment as if your success depends on it, because it just might. It's a great way to make that career-changing, indelible impression on a higher-up who might not even know your name. Your finished homework just might get pushed up the line and if your boss is a good boss, he or she will give you credit with the higher-ups.


Have a plan, but be flexible.

Being able to work with focus and discipline is generally a good thing ... unless you're focusing on things that won't help you or propel you forward! To help prevent this, kept it simple and to the point and create a short-term plan with a six- to nine-month outlook. This plan will help you get through the year. Developing an ironclad 10- or 20-year career-building plan is an exercise in futility. The world is simply evolving too fast to rely on a one-size-fits-all long-term plan. Instead keep focused, but flexible.


Use a rifle, not a shotgun.

When you fire a shotgun, your shot hits a wider area, but it lacks focused precision. In business, a shotgun approach gets the job done ... but usually doesn't yield outstanding results. Sure, you'll hit something with a shotgun, but the price in doing so seldom provides the big payback. While a rifle or laser-sharp approach will take more planning and forethought, in the end you'll probably save time and resources. It pays to identify exactly what needs to be done and then focus relentlessly on accomplishing those objectives.

When you take the time to focus, have discipline, and require follow-up; whether you're a business owner, a manager, or an employee moving up the ladder, you're creating a road map that documents what has to be accomplished and by when. Few things ever fall through the cracks when you follow this process. It is the most direct way to set yourself up for success!

Next: Two Proven Strategies to Get Promoted from Peon to President



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