The Keys to Success Keys to Success
What are the keys to success?

I pondered this question when asked to speak at the recent conference. My task was to define the X factor that, combined with IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional intelligence), would lead to success, happiness, fulfillment, and achieving one’s best self. A tall order.

IQ is traditionally one’s inherent intelligence level, but Gregg and I went further in our book, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, citing the “head” qualities that we discovered in our research, including interviews with leaders in 61 organizations in 11 countries. The “head” qualities are raw intelligence, knowledge, skills, and competence.

Now take these raw materials and set them ablaze with the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that Malcom Gladwell famously described in The Outliers. (Deliberate practice is not the rote, unthinking drills that most of us engage in when we “practice.” It is the hard work where one pushes oneself and strives to master the nuances of perfection in that activity. Few of us ever practice deliberately.)

But this combination of IQ and deliberate practice is not enough. One needs emotional intelligence (EQ) too: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

  • Self-awareness involves awareness of one’s emotions, one’s accuracy in self-assessment, and one’s self-confidence.
  • Self-management involves self-control, transparency or openness, adaptability, achievement drive, and initiative.
  • Social awareness involves empathy, a critical skill for success, and organizational awareness.
  • Relationship management involves leadership skills, influence, conflict management, bonding and collaboration ability, and teamwork orientation.

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


Geoff Colvin in his wonderful book Humans Are Underrated defines empathy as one’s understanding how others are feeling as well as one’s ability to flex one’s behavior accordingly. In Triple Crown Leadership, we separated behavior into two broad categories steel and velvet.

Sometimes you have to be steel, using one’s position, title, influence, and authority to insist something will be done a certain, non-negotiable way. For example, “We’ll achieve our goals, but we’ll never do anything unethical. Never.”

On the other hand, most of the time you have to be velvet, listening more, asking open-ended questions, and letting others lead, even if you could do it better or faster, in order to develop others as leaders too. As Lorrie Norrington at eBay told us, “Sometimes you have to be a wartime general [steel]. Sometimes a peacetime general [velvet].”

In Triple Crown Leadership, we couple EQ with character, integrity, authenticity, and cultural fit into a concept we call “heart.” We cited Parker Palmer’s wonderful definition of heart:

“… that center in the human self where everything comes together–where will and intellect and values and feeling and intuition and vision all converge. It [is] the source of one’s integrity.”

We learned in our research that head qualities were the minimum entry bar to organizations on the quest to become excellent, ethical, and enduring. More important were the heart qualities. Lynn Easterling, a VP at Cisco Systems, said it well: “I can teach the hard skills, but I can’t teach good character or good relational skills.”

Both head and heart are essential—and a powerful and rare combination. But even those two are not enough. There is still a missing X factor.

The X factor is that ethereal, breakthrough factor that transforms everything.

I discovered the X factor years ago when I read Robert Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant as Leader.” It was a mind flip for me. The leader serves. The only ones who can bestow the mantle of leadership upon you are those who choose to follow you willingly, and they will only do so if you serve them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”

The X factor that will make all the difference in your success and ultimate happiness is service.

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.


This is revolutionary for leaders because so often, instead of focusing on serving others, we are caught up in our own ego. We are self-absorbed and sometimes arrogant. We stop listening to others. Primed with the perquisites of power and the allure of authority, we can develop an infallibility complex that virtually guarantees fallibility.

People see through it. They might comply grudgingly, but they won’t put their heart and soul into someone else’s ego trip. And the world is too complex and fast-moving for anyone to succeed alone.

In the end, they keys to success, happiness, fulfillment, and your best self include not just “head” (with IQ fueled by deliberate practice) and “heart” (with EQ leavened by character, integrity, and authenticity), but also—and especially—the X factor of service.


Practical Applications

  1. Develop your knowledge, skills, and capabilities through deliberate practice.
  2. Live and lead with heart, including emotional intelligence, character, and authenticity.
  3. Then fling yourself into the service of others. Your success, happiness, and fulfillment will shine through.

-Bob Vanourek


Tools for You

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


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Gregg Vanourek and Bob Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors (and son and father). They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps! Keys to Success

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