Several years ago, I spoke at the Wharton Asia Business Conference, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. One of the other speakers was Donald Tang, who was, among many other things, the former Chairman & CEO of Bear Stearns Asia.
After each speaker’s talk, there was a Q&A session. At the end of Donald Tang’s talk, a member of the audience asked, “What are the keys to a successful career?” He replied by saying, “Three things:
- Be confident. Confidence is rewarded with opportunity.
- Work hard. The goal is not to work harder than everyone else. You cannot really know just how hard everyone else is working, so that isn’t the best benchmark. Instead, just give your very best every day.
- Take risks. Don’t take just any kind of risk. Take smart risks, where you have weighed the pros and cons. But take risks.”
It was good advice, but the audience was not impressed. After all, his advice was quite simple and obvious. In fact, the person who had asked the question then said, “That sounds like good advice for an undergrad, just out of university, but what about people like us, who are a little further along in our careers?”
Mr. Tang then said, “Same advice. In fact, those three things are even more important later on in your career, after you’ve had some success, because…
- After you have had some success, sometimes your confidence turns into arrogance. Confidence is positive to success. Arrogance is not.
- After you have had some success, you might be less motivated to work as hard as you can. You’re tempted to think that you’ve already proven yourself so maybe you don’t need to work so hard any more. Beware.
- After you have had some success, then you have something to lose and so maybe you are not as willing to take more risks. That limits your potential and your impact.
So, you see this advice is even more important later on in our careers, once we’ve had some success. It’s then that we are most vulnerable to falling down on these points.”
After initially waving off his advice as “too simple and basic”, now nearly everyone in the audience was nodding in agreement and writing down his three points, especially those of us already well along in our careers. We knew he was right.