The Secrets of Successful Professionals

If you take the time to study successful professionals, you’d find that most of them didn’t follow the standard advice you’d find on social media.

The reality is these viral posts are rooted in idealism. Because it’s something we want to hear, we tend to view it as correct. This is called confirmation bias.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.

Every professional learns this fundamental truth eventually. The sooner you do will give you an advantage.

First, arguing that popular opinion is correct is already a fallacy. Next, people who are proponents of these things have never been on the other side of the table. They nitpick what worked for them or a small group of cohort, then start preaching that. Lastly, it’s just not how careers and professional life works.

When you study successful professionals, you’d see two things in common:

  1. They achieve results in their roles
  2. They have great relationships with other people

Secret #1: Results

Results are worthwhile contributions you make for the company. These are accomplishments that no one else can copy (unless they actually get the same results as you do).

What Exactly Are Results

Results are your personal achievements. They cannot be copied by someone else. They are the hallmark of your professional career.

Naturally, every profession and role will have different results. But the fact remains that you need results to stay in your job or grow.

Results vs Activities

One of the common mistakes professionals make is the focus on activities. This is often reflected in their resumes and interviews.

Activities are the things you do in the job. It also includes the software or technology you used and the time you spent in the role. Some examples are:

  • Proficient in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
  • Photoshop, Canva, After Effects
  • C++, Java, Python, HTML, CSS
  • 5+ years experience

These are all examples of activities. They are not results.


Because anyone else can do them. The same person who was in your role before they left or the person who will replace you can put those activities in their resumes as well. It doesn’t distinguish you from them.

Why Results Matter

To any smart interviewer, when you list activities as opposed to accomplishments, they’ll think you didn’t accomplish anything in your role.

That may not be true. But it’s your fault for not communicating that in your resume.

Another reason, and this is probably the most important one to remember, companies want someone who can meet their goals. Someone who can deliver results. And if you don’t communicate that throughout the interview process, the hiring company will never know. All things being equal, they will choose another applicant who do so.

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior

This is true for results and accomplishments as well. If you have accomplished goals in your previous jobs or similar roles (i.e. volunteering or own projects), you are more likely to be able to do that again.

That’s why results matter in your professional career. To keep moving forward, you need to deliver results.

Secret #2: Relationships

Relationships in the context of your professional career are exactly that– your dealings with other people both internal and external to the organization.

What Exactly Are Relationships

Every organization cannot exist without some sort of relationship. The moment things require two people to interact, there is a relationship. That is why it is important to have great relationships from within the company (i.e. your colleagues) and outside it (i.e. customers, suppliers).

Here’s a great way to “categorize” your relationships:


The matrix above isn’t exhaustive but it’s a good way to start thinking about your relationships.

  • Internal are those people inside your company. Naturally, this will change the moment you move.
  • External are those outside your company.
  • Task-related are those that have the same skills or industry as you do. If you’re a web developer, these are other web developers. For lawyers, other lawyers.
  • Career-related relationships are similar to tasks except that it has a broader scope. For web developers, this can be other programmers working in the marketing industry or SEO professionals. For lawyers, this can be professors and career counselors in law schools.
  • Social is self-explanatory. These are your friends.

Why Relationships Matter

Today’s work has become increasingly difficult to accomplish on your own. That is why relationships are important to get things done.

Have you ever worked with someone you don’t get along with well? How did that affect the way you and your other teammates work? Surely this led to productivity levels dropping for both parties.

The person who doesn’t get along also suffers in that she isn’t invited to social gatherings, people talk to her behind her back, and intentionally delaying work to sabotage her as well.

This happens daily in companies across the world. That is why relationships matter a lot.

Why You Need Both in Your Career

For approximately half of the world’s population who are task-focused, you might think that you can get away with results by yourself. You might think you can do everything on your own. This may be true at lower levels where work is measured by your individual efforts. But as you rise up in your career, you will be handling teams and being part of teams. Your results will now be determined by how well you work with other people.

The other half (people-focused) thinks this way too. Because they have great relationships with other people, they can simply ask favors left and right. They end up rising in ranks because others have been doing the job for them.

In both cases, there will be a time where growth will stop. If you only focus on one, you will severely limit your career.

Think about it, if you are the take-no-prisoners type of person and don’t get along well with your team, there are only two things that can happen:

  1. Either you leave; or
  2. Everyone else leaves

In both cases, you lose. You might think you can do everything on your own, but that is impossible. A well-oiled team performs much better than a single person. Professional life isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about results and relationships. If everyone left and you stayed, you might count that as a win, but you’ll get stuck there if you don’t change.

If you only have relationships, making other people do your job, you’ll soon hit a ceiling.

At some point, you will have to deliver results yourself. The company you’re working for might not have a lot of budget (or just cut its budget) so you can’t hire new staff or outsource it, how will you then deliver results? You can’t blame the lack of budget because that is a constraint you have to work with.

To be successful, you need to have both results and relationships. Strive to excel at both.

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