Keys to Success

In the Fall of 2003, I had the great privilege to seat down at dinner with then President of Texas A&M University, Dr. Robert Gates. Most of you know him now as the Secretary of Defense for the United States. He was and is still the only person within the CIA to move up from Agent to CIA Director, appointed by then Bush 41.

That evening we spent awhile talking about the Cold World days, he told me stories of his bouts with the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain which was very intriguing. I thought at the time, I don’t think I’m supposed to hear this stuff, he said it was ok. He also went over his 10 keys to success and boy did I take notes, I mean I was sitting with the former CIA director and current president of the Texas A&M University, a well-traveled, educated and experienced man and here I am 23 at the time, I figured he had it all figured out.

He broke his keys to success down to 10 key points and I thought it would be appropriate to share with all the scholarship applicants and recipients.

First he said “Be good at what you do.” There are a lot of mediocre and average talented individuals, you normally don’t hear about them. You want to be extraordinary. The only way to do that is simply do something you love to do and be the best at it.

“Work hard”, 9 to 5 won’t cut it, not in school and not in the work place. Take great pride in what you do, take on more, more than the next person. Be the first person to work or class and be the last to leave.

“Take risks”, now candidly for some this can end bad but being a leader is about not knowing exactly what is ahead, but recognizing something is on the horizon, making a plan that at the time might seem unorthodox and executing it. Don’t always go with the safe beat. Be able to see what others do not.

“Be a problem solver, not a problem maker” he said, “what will set you apart from others is when you go to your boss (or teacher) and say, ‘I have a problem, but I think I have a solution’”. News flash or this maybe even a gut check for some, no one likes gossipers or problem makers and more over most do not trust them either. Don’t be that person.

“Tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear”, this again can end bad but more than likely you will quickly earn the respect of everyone around you. The side effect is people will come to you more than others with problems, in that case deal with it; this is part of being a leader. Embrace it or go home.

“Be loyal and if you can’t be, leave”. The only thing I have to save about this is no one likes nor appreciates disloyal individuals. These people normally don’t make it and in the brief instances they do they don’t stay on top very long.

“Be willing to admit you’ve made a mistake”, if you know you messed up, the worst thing you can do is try to cover it up, come out clean with the mistake upfront. Many people don’t want to do this because, “they have too much pride.” Don’t be that person. People will respect you more. If you don’t make mistakes you aren’t learning.

Have a vision Know exactly what you want to do and do it. To be candid once more, when asked what you want to do, if you are over the age of 20, don’t say “I don’t know”. Know what you want to do and do it. Don’t get me wrong people change their minds, just don’t do it 100 times and use that as an excuse because in this case you are one the many that “Don’t know.”

You will fail, whether you succeed depends on how you handle failure Leaders are people who stand up, dust themselves off and say, “that wasn’t very much damn fun, I don’t think I will do that again”. Every instance in life is a learning experience and sometimes you will fail. Just don’t fail at the same thing twice because no one likes a failure.

Be respectful to everyone.