A guide to achieving career success

Article originally posted on Philadelphia Business Journals on June 29, 2020

Since publication of my book “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success” in December 2019, I have received many comments about the advice I give on how to successfully navigate one’s career.

The most frequent question is, “How does one achieve career success?” My response is, “By being different than your peers.” During my career rising up through my company as an individual contributor, mid-level manager, senior executive, CEO and then serving as a board member on public, private, private equity, trade association and nonprofit boards, I found that there are universal beliefs, traits and practices that differentiate people that can lead to career success. These can be thought of in five categories: personal attributes, markets, communication, people, and values.

Personal attributes

  • Differentiate yourself from your peers in every job you hold.
  • Achieve results.
  • Be a role model to those you lead. They will watch you like a hawk and mirror your behaviors.
  • Lead with your head and with your heart. Value your employees, your organization’s most important asset.
  • Build trust and credibility with those you lead and those to whom you report. Once you have lost their trust and your credibility, you are ineffective.
  • Build coalitions with others to get things done.
  • Listen to your experts.
  • Own your mistakes and learn from them.
  • Know when to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission.
  • Build your personal brand as a highly respected thought leader and influencer in your field.
  • Help others be successful. It will come back to you when you need help.
  • Network, network, network! Your next job will likely come from those you know.
  • Lead like you would like to be led and treat people like you would like to be treated.


  • Understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for your business and those of your competition.
  • Understand your markets and get ahead of market trends.
  • Work to become the preferred provider of product/services to your market – it’s a source of competitive advantage.
  • Differentiate your company by delivering a great customer experience.
  • Face the brutal facts of reality. You can’t fix a problem unless you know what it is.
  • Remember, only the paranoid survive.


  • Communicate the vision and mission of the company to your employees, and their role in achieving them.
  • Obtain on-camera media training. There is nothing like watching yourself to improve the delivery of your message.
  • Be consistent in your message and readable by those you lead.
  • Listen to the ideas of your employees. They may have a superior solution not originally contemplated to an issue.
  • Learn how to sell your ideas. You are selling every day to your boss, your peers and your direct reports. If you are the CEO, you are selling to all of your employees, your board and stockholders.
  • Learn how to use PowerPoint so your slides are readable. Always put yourself in the position of those receiving your message. Ask yourself, what is the most effective way to get my message across?


  • Hire people with common sense and good critical judgment who will violate policy when, on rare occasion, it is in the best interests of the company to do so.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and push your employees out of their comfort zone.
  • Value the opinions of your experts and listen to the lone wolf.
  • Encourage employees to develop a sense of personal ownership in what they do.
  • Develop other leaders, inspire those around you and help others to move to the next level.
  • Don’t tolerate a toxic or an unethical employee working for you. They damage the organization.
  • Share your expectations with direct reports, empower them and cut them loose to do their thing.


  • Exhibit the right tone at the top and nurture the right organizational culture.
  • Always lead your organization with the highest levels of ethics and integrity.
  • Embrace the timeless philosophy of continuous improvement.
  • Project a proactive attitude. Be a person who sees possibilities and abundance, and not one who only sees scarcity and limitations. The former is the type of individual people want to follow.
  • Remember the passage in the West Point Cadet Prayer: “Make us choose the harder right than the easier wrong.” Do the right thing, even if it hurts.

The test of any leader isn’t when things are going well. It’s when they face difficult challenges. The individuals who embrace the above universal beliefs, traits and practices will more effectively overcome those challenges and be successful in their careers.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at

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