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The Key to Success in the Workplace

Ever wonder why in some cases the high school dropout does better in business than the person who earned their MBA? According to noted researcher and business strategist Chuck Martin, the problem is often a mismatch between the person and the skills the situation requires.

"The qualities that truly define success remain one of the greatest mysteries in life; but I believe those who take the time to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and to then focus on what they're good at, are most likely to succeed," says Martin. He has been studying the phenomenon of "success in the workplace" for decades and recently co-authored a book on the subject.

"Smarts: Are We Hardwired for Success?" (AMACOM Books) is a tool he hopes the leaders of tomorrow will use to determine their strengths. What it all comes down to, says Martin, is determining your strongest and weakest Executive Skills -- the cognitive brain functions (located in the frontal lobes of your brain) that help you manage your behavior, make decisions about what you should focus on, and what should be ignored.

Everyone has 12 of them:

  1. Self restraint -- the ability to allow time to evaluate a situation before speaking or acting on it.
  2. Working memory -- the ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks.
  3. Emotion control -- the ability to manage emotions in order to direct behavior and achieve goals.
  4. Focus -- the capacity to maintain attention to a situation in spite of distractions.
  5. Task initiation -- the ability to begin projects in a timely manner.
  6. Planning/prioritization -- the capacity to develop a road map to reach a goal, knowing which are the most important signposts along the way.
  7. Organization -- the ability to arrange materials or tasks according to a system.
  8. Time-management -- the capacity to estimate the time required for a task, allocate it effectively and meet deadlines.
  9. Defining and achieving goals -- the ability to set a goal and follow through, despite competing interests.
  10. Flexibility -- the ability to revise plans due to setbacks or new information.
  11. Observation -- the capacity to stand back and take a birds-eye view of yourself in a situation and make changes in your approach to problem-solving.
  12. Stress tolerance -- the ability to thrive under fire and in the face of uncertainty.

A lot of people excel at more than one of these skills, but in order to be truly successful in your career, Martin says you need to figure out which are your top two or three. The book offers a self-assessment tool you can use to determine your strongest skills, along with information about the kinds of jobs you're likely to succeed in.

"It's like turning on a light bulb for most people. Once they understand their strongest and weakest Executive Skills, they can get themselves into situations that leverage the strongest skills and avoid situations that require their weakest skills," says Martin.

Say, for example, you want to succeed as an office or store manager. Martin says typically you need to be strong in the skills of observation and defining and achieving goals. Those who want to succeed in a job they do from home need to be good at task initiation, focus and time management; successful salesmen and women need to have a high degree of flexibility and emotion control, and be good at defining and achieving goals both in the long and short term.

"While your skills, strengths and weaknesses stay the same, jobs evolve," says Martin. "Workers who realize their jobs are evolving away from their Executive Skills strengths before their boss does, and who then manage to navigate themselves into situations that again play to their strengths, are most likely to succeed in business."

"Smarts: Are We Hardwired for Success?" is Chuck Martin's seventh book. He co-authored it with noted psychologist Peg Dawson, EdD and neuropsychologist Richard Guare, PhD of the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders at Seacoast Mental Health Center in New Hampshire. The book is available for purchase at bookstores throughout the country, and online.