December 4, 2022

I have been a teacher, coach, and educational administrator for 44 years—10 years at the high school level and 34 at the college level. I also organized and led basketball camps and clinics across America and in four European countries.

I have had the privilege of working with a large number of people who have excelled in their work, which has helped them to achieve successful careers.

Over the years I’ve observed 6 traits that I thought made all the successful people I’ve met excel at their jobs. Here are six mindsets you should adopt to excel at work and in your career.

Excel at work and life with these mindsets

1. Humility

The most successful people I’ve worked with have been humble from their first day of work to their last. I found that people who made it to the top of their careers in business, education, law, or medicine were humble people. A willingness to admit that there is still more to learn is what distinguishes a great leader.

Incongruously, people who tried to excel in their work but didn’t reach the top were the arrogant, selfish ones. This seemed to be a recurring event.

On the occasion of its 75th anniversary, Fortune Magazine dedicated the entire publication to one concept – decision making. They interviewed leaders from business, the military, education and politics.

The most insightful interview I found was with Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. His comment was that the most important decisions made in American boardrooms over the past 25 years, regardless of business, all started with executives saying the same 3 words: “I don’t know.”

I’ve worked with leaders who knew. To say I’ve worked “with” them is actually a misnomer. No one could “work with” them because they already had all the answers.

I’ve also worked with executives who consulted their most important people when making difficult decisions. They weren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know how to deal with this problem, but let’s put our heads together and find the best solution.”

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I have found these humble leaders to be the safest and strongest leaders I have ever worked with.

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, summed up humility when he wrote:

Talent is god given, be humble. Glory is given by people, be thankful. But imagination is self-explanatory, be careful.

2. Caring

People who excel at work care about their peers. Caring for people is one of the elements of wellness-centered leadership, or leadership designed to strengthen and foster professional fulfillment.

Our basketball players at the University of St. Francis used to demonstrate for the coaches speaking at the Nike clinics in Chicago. They had to do a demonstration for an Indiana trainer, Bob Knight. They were nervous because Coach Knight had a reputation for being tough on players.

The very first drill the coach gave our players was a disaster. Our boys totally screwed it up. The trainers laughed.

Coach Knight went straight to the coaches and said, “If I hear any more laughter, I’ll pick 10 of you guys to do it and the kids will sit in the front row and laugh at you.”

You’ve never heard of 800 cars getting so quiet so fast!

Bob Knight showed he cared about our players and they looked forward to working with him for the rest of the clinic.

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People who care show up. Successful people care.

3. Extra mile

Successful people always do more than what is expected of them.

When problems arise, people who do excellent work do whatever it takes to solve the problem. You don’t need to be asked; They are always willing to go the extra mile.

My fellow coach and good friend Jack Hermanski worked with special education students. He was a “travelling” teacher, working with students at ten schools in his district. Like many school districts, Jack’s district budgets were minimal. Jack was committed to teaching his students and refused to let budgets prevent him from serving his children.

Since he had to commute from school to school every day, Jack kept all of his gear in his truck. But something was different about the equipment on Jack’s truck. He bought everything!

Jack went the extra mile to provide the best possible educational experience for his students.

4. Listening

I believe that the ability to listen can never be overemphasized. We have numerous courses in Speaking in our college courses, but I believe that a compulsory course in LISTENING within the general educational requirements would be of greater benefit to the students. Active listening teaches accessibility and is a valued skill.

Rather than give you my perspective on listening, I’d like to share the wisdom of some listening thought leaders:

“One of the truest forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill “Listening is one of the loudest forms of kindness.” – Anonymous “Most successful people I know are those who listen more than they speak.” – Bernard Beruch “It takes courage to stand up and speak; It also takes courage to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill “God gave us mouths that close and ears that don’t close. That must tell us something.” – Anonymous “Most people don’t listen to understand; they listen with the intention of responding.” – Stephen Covey “I remind myself every morning: nothing I say today will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I have to do it by listening.” – Larry King “You can’t really listen to someone and do something else at the same time.” – Scott Peck I never thought of that. Do you have? “The word to listen has the same letters as to be silent.” – Alfred Brendel

People who excel at work have developed the ability to listen.

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5. Continuous learning

“The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it’s open.” Frank Zappe

Much like listening, knowledge breeds respect. Whatever your profession, you must work hard to learn everything you can about it.

In the 1960’s I believed in weightlifting for basketball players. This practice was perhaps the only time I was ahead of the proverbial curve!

We lifted two days a week during the season. We trained to gain strength – and tried to prepare our players for the physicality of the games. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with the Chicago Bulls’ strength-training coaches. Like everyone else, they trained for strength, but they took it a step further.

They also raised for athletics. They showed us some exercises that not only improved strength but also speed. We kept an open mind and changed some of our strength training exercises.

Repetition is the mother of learning. The only way to master a physical skill is through hours of repetition.

6. Consistency of Efforts

I used to think that effort was the key to success in sport. I no longer believe in athletics or any profession. I believe that the difference between good and great in any endeavor is consistency in effort.

No one has their “A” game every day, but the greats develop the ability and mindset to give the best of what they have every day.

Good athletes can perform at their best on a regular basis. Great athletes have mental toughness as soon as they lace up their training shoes and step onto the field or court for immediate maximum effort.

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In his famous success pyramid, John Wooden defines success as follows:

Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of complacency in knowing you’ve strived to become the best of what you’re capable of.

bottom line

It is crucial to accept that there are no shortcuts to success. If you can do your best every day, you know how to excel in your career and have a prosperous future.

To stand out at work: be humble. be caring Go the extra mile. Be a listener. Be a lifelong learner. Bring continuity to the effort.

Featured image credit: DocuSign via unsplash.com