The idea of being “successful” is ultimately a matter of personal judgment. But regardless of personality, industry, or point in history, there are timeless truths about what it takes to achieve one’s potential.
Self-made industrialist Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man on the planet in the early 20th century and was a student of what it takes to achieve greatness. In 1908, he met with the journalist Napoleon Hill and decided that Hill would be the vehicle for sharing his strategies with the world.
Their conversations and Hill’s research on hundreds of self-made millionaires became the basis of the 1937 book “Think and Grow Rich,” which remains one of the bestselling books of all time. In 1954, Hill held a series of lectures in Chicago that expanded on the principles explored in his book.
These lectures are now collected for the first time in print in “Your Right to Be Rich.” Below, we’ve collected his observations on what it takes to be exceptionally successful from the sixth speech in the series, on personal initiative.
Here are the habits he found the most successful people have in common.
1. They have a definite purpose.
“The majority of people in this world could be very successful if they would just make up their minds how much success they want and on what terms they want to evaluate success,” Hill writes.
2. They know their motives.
Becoming a consultant at a big firm after two years at a top business school is a great goal for some people, but it means nearly nothing if the motive is simply that it’s a well-tread path. The most successful people are always aware of why they have their goals and are driven by this passion.
3. They surround themselves with people smarter than them.
It’s common to find huge egos among the power players of any industry, but they also know the extent of their capabilities and seek out people whose talents can complement theirs.
4. They are self-reliant.
A talented network and support group are necessary, but the most successful people also have a degree of self-reliance that allows them to pursue their definite purpose regardless of circumstances.
5. They have self-control.
Exceptionally successful people know how to control their emotions, not letting disappointments crush their spirits or achievements lead to cockiness. They also know that an impulsive decision can destroy years’ worth of work.
6. They are persistent.
Hill says it’s necessary to not only withstand difficulty but to use your setbacks as motivation to try even harder.
7. They find productive uses for their creativity.
People make an impact on the world by finding ways to direct their imagination to “definite and constructive ends,” Hill says.
8. They are decisive.
“If you do not have the habit of making clear-cut decisions promptly and definitely, you’re loafing on the job, procrastinating, and destroying this very thing called personal initiative,” Hill says.
9. They gather information before reaching conclusions.
On that note, Hill adds that it’s important not to make decisions or form opinions about a person or topic on a whim, ignoring relevant data.
10. They can control their enthusiasm.
All successful people are salesmen of a sort, Hill says. That’s to say they have a genuine passion for whatever drives them and are able to communicate this enthusiasm to others without overdoing it.
11. They are open minded.
“Unless you form the habit of maintaining an open mind on all subjects — toward all people at all times — you’ll never be a great thinker, you’ll never have a great, magnetic personality, and you certainly will never be very well liked,” Hill says.
12. They always do more than expected.
If you aspire to truly excel, you will do more than what you are paid to do.
13. They are diplomatic.
Hill says one of the things he found most remarkable about Andrew Carnegie was that he never saw him give a command, yet he still had employees who would go out of their way to help him. It was, Hill explains, because he was tactful with everyone he spoke with, always maintaining a polite and cool air about him. In “Think and Grow Rich,” Hill says there’s a reason despots are so often violently overthrown; it pays to be graceful.
14. They listen more than they speak.
The most successful people don’t use conversations to fuel their self-worth, but rather as a way of learning from another person.
15. They pay attention to details.
“A good executive, a good leader, or a good anything is a person who observes all the things that are happening around him, the good things and the bad things, the positives and the negatives,” Hill says. “He doesn’t just notice those things that interest him, he notices everything that may interest him or affect his interests.”
16. They can take criticism.
Hill says if you aspire to do something noteworthy in your field, you will draw criticism regardless of who you are or how well you do your job. Exceptionally successful people aren’t disturbed by critical remarks, but they do pay attention to ones that have merit and take lessons from them.
17. They are loyal.
“If you don’t have loyalty to the people that have a right to your loyalty, you don’t have anything,” Hill writes. “It doesn’t matter how brilliant, or sharp, or smart, or how well educated you are. In fact, the smarter you are, the more dangerous you may be if you can’t be loyal to the people who have a right to your loyalty.”
18. They are incredibly charismatic.
Hill says it’s a mistake to think you’re either born with an attractive personality or you’re not. It ultimately comes down to adopting the simple practices of listening closely to whoever you’re speaking with and being sympathetic to their perspectives.
19. They are focused.
The best leaders focus their attention and energy on a single project at a time. “Concentrated effort gives one power that can be attained in no other way,” Carnegie told Hill.
20. They learn from their mistakes.
A key difference between those who achieve their purpose and those who fall short is the perception of mistakes as worthwhile educational experiences rather than humiliating failures.
21. They accept responsibility for their subordinates’ failures.
Carnegie taught Hill that real leaders privately address their subordinates’ mistakes with them, but take the blame publicly without dissent. When you lead a group of people, they become reflections of yourself.
22. They praise the achievements of others.
Those who achieve a high level of success are comfortable with themselves and do not seek praise from others. They do, however, build strong relationships and inspire their team members by recognizing the good work of others.
23. They treat others the way they’d like to be treated.
Hill adopted Carnegie’s belief that business should be done according to the Golden Rule. “When you make any decision, or engage in any transaction involving the other fellow, put yourself in the other fellow’s position before you make a final decision,” Hill says.
24. They maintain a positive attitude.
It’s often easier to give into cynicism, but those who choose to be positive set themselves up for success and have better reputations.
25. They don’t make excuses.
“Success requires no explanations; failure permits no alibis,” Hill says.
26. They focus on what they want.
“Instead of thinking about the things you don’t want, the things you fear, the things you distrust, the things you dislike, think about all the things you like, all the things you want, and all the things you’re going to become determined to get,” Hill writes.