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5 Secrets to a Successful Executive Career

December 15, 2015

When it comes to success, it’s not uncommon for people to look at top business leaders and wonder, “What does he/she have that I don’t?” or perhaps “How did they do it?” Many of us feel that heavy hitters like the CEO of General Motors or the President of J.P. Morgan Chase possess an uncanny ability or talent that “regular” people just don’t have. But in reality, all of them started somewhere and in their journey to the top, developed the skills, knowledge and expertise to propel them to where they are today. With that in mind, here are some secrets and tips to help you achieve a successful executive career:

1. Have a personal strategy

Highly-successful executives know the value of a personal strategy. This means that they develop a career path plan that will serve to not only propel them up the corporate ladder, but also find ways to differentiate themselves from other professionals. Outlining your goals and creating a solid career strategy is step one in building a successful executive career.

“It doesn’t matter how big or small the task is, if you can do it just a little bit better than what is expected, you will be noticed and rewarded.” – Jeffrey Katzenberg,DreamWorks Co-Founder

“To Wow, you must differentiate yourself and do something above what’s expected.” -Tony Hsieh, Founder of Zappos

2. Build integrity and credibility

To succeed in an executive position, credibility and integrity go hand-in-hand. Being a successful executive requires strong leadership qualities and a high level of credibility. This means that you’re trusted by your team, your peers, your clients and the world at large. Building credibility within your organization starts the moment you begin your career by exemplifying characteristics like dependability, commitment, and consistency as well as having a proactive and passionate approach to your work.

“Your reputation will outlive the last quarter, how the year ended or whether or not the deal got done. Life is a long time and deals will come and go, but your reputation will always stay with you.” -Lillie, the CEO of Jarden suggests

3. Networking and making connections

“It’s not what you know, but who you know” is an expression you’ve likely heard more than once—and an important one to remember if you are looking to build a successful executive career. While knowledge and skills are important, developing relationships with the right people is key. Experts suggest that in the early stages of your career (and throughout) it’s critical to develop personal networks with peers, managers and others by joining organizations and becoming active within the community. Always seize the opportunity to be mentored; behind every great leader or successful business person is a mentor who inspired and guided them.

“I think mentors are important, I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship.” - Oprah Winfrey

4. Get educated

There are exceptions to every rule, but in the business world, there are very few top executives that do not have a college education. A large percentage earn post graduate degrees in their field knowing how important and necessary they are in attaining upper level positions. For many of today’s top executives, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) was a key factor to achieving success.

Why is an advanced degree so important? Because it provides the necessary skill set to perform the job successfully and elevates you above those who stopped their education after earning a bachelor’s degree. Those with MBAs are viewed as a valuable asset to an organization. Some of the most recognizable executives who prove this point:

  • Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay
  • John Chamers, CEO of Cisco Systems
  • David Simon, CEO of Simon Property Group
  • John Martin, CEO of Gilead Science
  • Mitchell Caplan, former CEO of E-Trade Financial Corporation
  • Charles Halderman, CEO of Freddie Mac
  • Louis Caldera, former United States Secretary of the Army

5. Get and stay motivated

The world’s most successful executives share many of the same qualities and a big one is motivation. Having a strong desire to succeed is one of the most important elements. Even with the best training, connections, mentoring and advanced education, if you don’t want success badly enough, you’re not likely to achieve it. For many of today’s top executives, staying motivated was the big differentiator in their climb to the top. There are always going to be challenges in business, but if you’re ambitious and keep your priorities straight, you’ll be able to surpass any obstacle.

“There are really hard moments. But if you keep your eye on the prize, it’s part of what drives you to get there.” - Helena Foulkes, Executive VP of CVS Caremark

While there’s no official blueprint to becoming a successful executive, following these tips and tidbits of advice from some of the world leaders in business will help guide you on your path. When it comes to pursuing an advanced degree, an MBA is crucial. Learn more about pursuing your MBA today.