The 4 Factors For Career Success


From time to time we like to bring you other people’s work that complements our own. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is a senior adviser at the global executive search firm EgonZendher and an executive fellow at Harvard Business School. His experience as a head-hunter has revealed the importance of emotional intelligence in leaders all over the globe. This video sums up his findings about the factors for career success.


“What is it that makes some people succeed while others fail miserably despite very similar conditions and capability? I think after 25 years, after personally interviewing more than 20,000 people in my career as an executive search consultant, I think I have an answer. If you look at our lives, our lives are very simple…we are basically born and then we spend 25 years studying full-time and then we continue working the rest of our life.


The first factor for career success is closely related to life which is genetics. If you are healthy, if you are smart, you have an advantage in life, but we know that genes are less than half of what we are and more than half of what we are is what we actually do with our genes. That's why I'm convinced that the second factor for career success is development, which is my shorthand for all the learning, formal or informal, that we achieved through life.


Once we become professionals and start working full-time a third factor comes into play, which is the ability to make great career decisions. We know it. There are some organizations which are outstanding for building our skills. If you look at the profile of the fortune 500 CEOs you'll find that the first large individual group is Harvard MBAs. The second largest individual group is GE Alumni, GE graduates…people who went to GE and because it's such a machine for building talent, went on to become leaders of other companies. But then once we become managers and start doing things for others, the fourth, final and most important factor comes into play. Which is the ability to make great people decisions. Nothing is more important for our career success than making great people decisions. It's especially important once we become managers because everything we do will depend on the people we've chosen - our results, our performance, our risks, our chances of being promoted because of the success as we've developed. In short, our career success.


Why great people decisions matter so much is because they are the key for our career success. This experiment is brilliantly described in a wonderful book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman, frequent speaker with HSN. When I saw this book, which was on the cover of Time Magazine as the book that redefined what it means to be smart, I contacted Dan and for the following seven years we did lots of research together at his Consortium for Research in Emotional Intelligence. He became curious about whether this would apply to different cultures and I became curious about whether this could apply for executive search. And, so I did the following: I classified the people I had hired into successes and failures. I looked at three broad characteristics and tried to see whether there was any difference in the profiles. Those were:


  • people we have hired with a very relevant previous experience
  • people who had very strong emotional intelligence, masters at managing themselves and their relation(ships) with others. And finally…
  • highly clever people in the traditional sense of IQ: verbal, analytical, mathematical type of intelligence.


I did the analysis at that point in time for Latin America which is a place where as I like to put it, even the past is unpredictable. I share this with Dan and I said well let's look for a place where even the future is predictable. We went to Germany. And then we said…let's go to some place which is completely different from anything else, we went to Japan. Look at the profiles for the three so different cultures: if you look at the first set of bars exactly 70% of the successful people we've hired had a very previous, relevant experience. So, experience counts for a senior leadership position but even more important than experience was emotional intelligence. 80% of the most successful people were masters at managing themselves and their relation(ships) and the least important factor, relatively speaking, was IQ, which doesn't mean that these people were stupid. I mean they wouldn’t go like this when eating an ice cream, no? They were finalist candidates presented by the finest executive search firm in the world: Egon Zendher International. They were clever people with a wonderful experience, who were masters at managing themselves and their relation(ships). But look at the failures…


If you look at the difference between the two groups, by far…if you have to choose one aspect to look at that would be the best predictor of success or failures, that's obviously emotional intelligence. 80% of the successes had high emotional intelligence and only 25% of failures. And the failures, despite having more experience on average and despite being more clever, failed because of their emotional stability. So, first question on how to master great people decisions, what to look for in a candidate: remember to check for the ‘soft’ (skills) because you hire people on experience and academic background and you hire them because of the way in which they manage themselves, and their relation(ships). And, I will totally agree with the two criteria that Pat mentioned: hunger and humility.”


We encourage you to comment below, perhaps you also have evidence to support the importance of emotional intelligence in the factors for career success as a leadership capability?


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