I am an avid crossfitter and I am a leadership development coach. As of two weeks ago these were two separate aspects of my personality that did not cross over, until…

…I arrived at my crossfit gym one morning to see a “Goals & Gainz” list on the board outlining 10 traits that required zero talent, all of which are proven leadership traits.

10 factors for success copy

It’s common for new and established leaders to have moments of self-doubt and engage in social and professional comparisons. We live in a time when geniuses abound, but we have to remind ourselves that success often comes down to perseverance, not genius. It’s about consistency and follow through. That’s where the genius lies.

The skills to succeed aren’t God-given; they aren’t based on IQ or circumstance. They are skills anyone can acquire with practice. If you want to be rise to the stature of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg then research their professional success and emulate them if need be.

Aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs can easily emulate the greats to develop their own leadership style that will push them to the top.

  1. Being on Time – You can be as good at arriving on time as Richard Branson. This is a character trait that is so easy to accomplish and promotes respect for all parties involved. Chronic lateness does exactly the opposite.
  2. Work Ethic – You can have the same work ethic as Marc Cuban. In fact most business icons have written books about their work ethic. Pick one up and research their routines. You will need to believe in the virtue of hard work. Even an early windfall or premature success will not sustain without the backbone of hard work to keep it going.
  3. Effort – You can exert just as much effort as Bill Gates. The key is to be willing, and also to exert the right kind of effort so you don’t waste your time. Effort separates most successful leaders from the rest of the pack. They do not stop and they work at their goals like there are 1,000 rumpelstiltskins trying to beat them at their own game.
  4. Body Language – You can convey the same body language as Sheryl Sandberg. Study the greats and see how they communicate nonverbally. Get a coach if need be to see where you might need work on your communication. Nonverbal cues may not be the secret to propel you to the top but they can definitely hinder you from getting there. Some traditions take body language very seriously.
  5. Energy – You can harness the same energy as Oprah. While some of us might be born with a natural zest, it’s easily attainable and just takes the right medicine: sleep, proper diet, meditation, exercise, and some fun. It’s not rocket science; it’s the natural consequence of living healthy.
  6. Attitude – You can have the same attitude as Franklin Roosevelt. It may have to be cultivated if you don’t have the leadership attitude to begin with, but you can get it if you want it. You can learn from a mentor and by emulating the greats. The more you emulate the more it becomes who you are.
  7. Passion – You can have as much passion as Arianna Huffington. If you’re doing what you love and aligned with your goals the passion will come if you want it. You have to want it though, or the passion lays dormant inside of you. Once you begin and keep going, the passion will grow.
  8. Being Prepared – You can be as prepared as Roger Federer. Tennis players are a great example of preparation as they practice hitting drills for most of their lives so that when they are in a match they have the muscle memory to hit the shot the way they need to. They can then concentrate on where they want to hit the ball without worrying if they have the skill to execute it. Similarly, prepare yourself so you have the ingrained skills to execute your ideas.
  9. Doing Extra – You can go the extra mile just like Barbara Corcoran grew Corcoran Realty into the empire it is. It’s just a matter of doing it and not stopping. You always have a choice of doing or not doing. Choose doing and you’ll see the fruits of your labor if you do a little more. Even when you’re burnt out you probably have at least 20% more in you to give, if you’re willing.
  10. Being Coachable – This is where you make it or break it. Recognize there is no leader that has done it alone. Most leaders had someone – be it a mentor, a coach, a book, a role model – from whom they learned. Being Coachable is about cultivating curiosity and resisting the status quo bias, which urges you to keep things as they are. Read, learn, grow, evolve, keep an open mind, frame challenges as opportunities.


When jazz musicians are learning their craft they first learn – note for note – the solos of their idols. Once they have those solos under their belt they develop their own style, but they don’t develop their own style until they’ve first emulated the greats. Likewise, aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs can easily emulate the greats to develop their own leadership style that will push them to the top.

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton.

The only talent required for any of these skills is the humility to accept that we all learn from those that came before us.

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We have loved numbered lists since the beginning of time. If the Ten Commandments had been written today it would show up in your Facebook feed as “The 10 Things Every Good Person Does.”

While the Ten Commandments provide an excellent list for the basic dos and don’ts to live a moral life it unfortunately doesn’t get specific on “The 5 things every leader needs to know” or “The 6 ways to retain customer loyalty.” Granted, Thou Shalt Not Kill is as good a place as any to bolster employee engagement, but we want specifics. Time is precious. Tell us what to do and how to do it, and fast. We don’t want to make a mistake.

The recent upswing of numbered lists allegedly gives you a fail-safe guide for success, but I’d like to suggest that this is not possible, and I’d like to give you 3 reasons why:

1. Things Change. 

Everything is in flux. You just aged since you read the former sentence and your entire cellular make-up changed as well. While some things remain more or less inconvertibly true, some do not, and most never get resolved. For instance:

Is soy bad for us or is it good for us? Should we eat margarine or butter? Does Sweet n Low cause cancer? Does anti-perspirant cause Alzheimer’s? 

When it comes to your company, how do you know if what was best yesterday is right for you today? The #1 thing successful leaders do every day (from a list of 15 things) on Forbes.com, is “Make Others Feel Safe to Speak-Up.” In theory I would suggest that too, and yet I could also foresee a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario and possibly muddle what was once a clear-cut decision in your mind.

Maybe an open door policy once worked for you and your employees but now most of the original employees have moved on to other jobs and the new crew abuses the policy. Do you keep it in place even if a numbered list says it’s one of the 7 things you must do?

Though overused, it’s always good to remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous advice, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

2. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

If Bob jumps off the empire state building are you going to? I know that’s a childish point, but the sentiment rings true. How many successful leaders and entrepreneurs do you think became successful because they adhered to a list they read on the Internet?

Better yet, how many do you think achieved a certain degree of success after reading a list of 5 things they had to do to become successful, and then they became more successful when they read a list of 6 things, and then they really hit the top of their industry when they read the 7 things list?

3. Why 5? Or 6? Or 10? Or 9?

The truth is I don’t have a #3, I just thought 3 sounded better than 2, and that’s also the point of making this a list of three.

Who decided there were 8 things successful people do? And do all successful people do all 8 things all the time? If they’re doing 8 then what about the other successful person who is doing 15 and the other successful leader who is only doing 5?

What’s the right list? How many things does a successful leader do?

successstepsThe number is arbitrary. Doesn’t “The TEN Commandments” sound better than “The 9 Commandments?” Or what if they were “The 8 and sometimes 9 commandments depending on the person?” Would that list be as convincing or eye-catching as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

Numbered lists – and lists in general – format information in a way that our brains like. It’s compartmentalized, it’s visual, it’s clean. It’s easier to remember the information. We know what we’re getting, which is a huge advantage when you scroll through an endless Facebook feed.

In 2011, Psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wänke discovered that we feel better when we have to work less to process information. A list reduces the amount of work we have to do.

We’re also more likely to complete the article and completing the article makes us feel good. We’re thus more likely to click on a numbered list again, recalling the time we felt so good when we completed the last numbered list.

We are all born with instinct yet some of us never know whether to trust it or not. Though your neurochemistry tells you it feels good to adhere to a numbered list, it’s important to cultivate your intuition through trial and error.

Don’t let a numbered list replace your ability to make decisions (And don’t call me a hypocrite me when I write a numbered list blog post in the future, because I will.)

Of course don’t ignore facts, and do learn from others, but craft your own leadership style. Try things out, see what works for you and what doesn’t. Once you figure out what’s imperative for success, please tell us how many things there are and publish the list!

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