Success & Failure Attributes in People – Part 2

Last week we reviewed the five attributes found in high-performance people. Now let’s consider the other half—those who can’t seem to make things happen. The people who never seem to make any meaningful progress in their careers, and consequently, can be real liabilities in their organizations. If we were all paid on the basis of good intentions, these people would be millionaires. They are the “80” part of the 80/20 rule. Here are the five major reasons why people don’t reach their potential at their work. You will find people who have these negative attributes at all level of organizations. See if you recognize any of them.

Five common attributes in underachievers:

1. People who fall in love with their limits instead of their possibilities. 

It is easy to be seduced by excuses. Why? Because we all have them. Are mine better than yours? Are hers better than his? It is possible to spend a lot of time thinking about these things. Many people are far more comfortable with the surrender than they are with the work. Deciding to focus on your perceived limits is a choice, just like pursuing goals or improvements is a choice.

2. People are often much more aware of what they don’t want to be than what they do want to be.

I am constantly hearing people describe (in impressive detail) exactly who and what they don’t want to be. They say they could never be really ambitious, or self-serving, or money-motivated, dictatorial or a workaholic. I always wonder how incredible these folks could be if they had spent as much time figuring out what they actually would like to become.

3. Forgetting to work on themselves.

This is a big one, and it is discussed all over this book. To succeed in the fast-paced world we live in now (and enjoy it), we must work on ourselves as hard as we work on our jobs. Incredibly, the act of self-improvement is also your best career move. To be the same as you were five years ago with no new insights, skills, philosophies, or lessons would be the saddest of outcomes. It should be seen as an embarrassment to not be developing. We all seem to have time for lunch, small talk, television, gossip… why can’t we find time to read or think?

4. Looking for short cuts.

For many people, the apparently shorter riskier route is much more attractive than the longer reliable one. We are often stunned by the lengths to which otherwise normal people will go to avoid simple and necessary work. This is another one you will find as often in the executive level as anywhere else. There are people who will invite all kinds of career risk into their lives just to avoid doing some part of what they are paid to do.

5. People who never really decide why they come to work in the first place.

All developed leaders understand that the “why” part of success will always overwhelm the “how” part. It’s true. The functions are easy in most job roles. Interestingly, the functions of many careers have barely changed in the last 100 years. The tools have changed drastically and will continue to change. But you can read a book on success written in 1940, and it will still have great (and currently applicable) advice. Why are they here? What meaningful things are they working toward? If they don’t know, then the work they are doing will be sub-par and will not improve. Individual performance needs a context.


The two lists we have reviewed are for generalizing purposes only. We would expect that you would add these learnings to your own personal lists. Developed leaders are constantly considering their experiences with different types of people. This allows them to, over time, accumulate a very valuable sense of who can succeed on their teams. These accumulated people-learnings can be priceless. They allow a leader to put together a high performance team very quickly, or to fix a broken team fast. An exceptional leader will become known over time primarily as an excellent team builder. Understanding people and what drives them is a necessary study for any serious student of leadership.


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