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The Six Essential Characteristics of Successful People


Last updated 8/21/2014

As the psychologist for the hit reality shows “The Apprentice” and “Survivor,” Dr. Liza Siegel has seen firsthand the factors that can make or break a contestant when the pressure is on. What she has found, repeatedly, while screening, testing and interviewing each of the programs’ applicants (and serving as the personal escort to “Apprentice” contestants when they are "fired" from the show) is that certain core beliefs and attitudes are shared by those who succeed, both on reality shows and in reality. And, says Dr. Siegel, anyone can learn how to develop these traits.

In her new book Suite Success: The Psychologist from "The Apprentice Reveals" What It really Takes to Excel—in the Boardroom and in Life (AMACOM, 2006), Dr. Siegel offers advice on how to develop the positive mind-set that leads to self-confidence, improved work relationships and other characteristics that breed success.

In Suite Success, Dr. Siegel lists the six essential psychological characteristics of successful people:

1.  Optimism.
An optimist expects positive outcomes. He doesn’t take failure personally but keeps on trying until he succeeds. Andy Litinsky was a contestant on season two of “The Apprentice” who seemed to be made of Teflon when it came to negative criticisms. When the show aired, Andy was 22 years old and about to graduate from Harvard. A national debate champion, he couldn’t wait to get into the boardroom and showcase his skills. Each time his team lost, he was singled out as being too young, too inexperienced, too uncertain. But Andy rose to the verbal sparring and had fun defending himself. He stayed in the game longer than expected because of his conviction that he deserved to be there.

2.  Creativity. The challenging tasks on “The Apprentice” all require “out of the box” thinking. On season three, Tana Goertz was the last person remaining from the “street smarts” team in the final boardroom. Although she wasn’t “hired,” Donald Trump praised her for her track record and creative thinking. Among other innovations, Tana developed a CD-like pamphlet as part of the advertising assignment for Pontiac; the company liked the idea so much it decided to use it in its actual sales campaign. Not one to rest on her laurels, Tana created a children’s book during the time the show was airing with the aim of sharing it on her press rounds after the finale.

3.  Resilience. Though he was on “The Apprentice” for only three episodes, Sam Solovey stands out from the debut season for his ability to keep popping back up after he’d been knocked down. During the first and second boardrooms, every member of the men’s team placed Sam’s head on the chopping block. But they couldn’t conceal their fondness for him, and Sam wouldn’t suppress his passion. His quirky tenacity inspired producer Mark Burnett to call him a “lion.” In Sam’s last episode, he was the project manager; when the team lost, Trump told him it was finally time to go. Sam let out a roar before leaving the boardroom. Fired but far from defeated, he soon reappeared in the spotlight, on shows from Howard Stern to Oprah, and even on spots with the Donald himself.

4.  Self-Control. The first to win the coveted position of Trump’s “The Apprentice,” Bill Rancic discovered his penchant for building businesses at the tender age of 10. While most of his peers were watching Saturday morning cartoons, Bill was busy making pancakes for his grandmother’s friends, who would slip a five dollar bill under the plate. He credits his pre- and post- “The Apprentice” success to “hard work and dedication.” Throughout season one, Bill worked hard and exceptionally well with his team members. He had learned from an early age that work paid off with a remarkable feeling of accomplishment, which gave him a foundation of self-discipline and self-confidence. As a result, Bill approached problem solving with flexibility and brought a sense of both self-assurance and ease to his interactions with other people.

5.  Emotional Awareness. One of the best examples of perceptive and empathetic leadership “The Apprentice” has to offer is Troy McClain, from the very first season. Hailing from Boise, Idaho, with an easy-going charm and firm principles, Troy made it to the final four, a feat all the more remarkable because he had only a high school education. He couldn’t take time off for college because he was working to help his single-parent mother take care of his hearing-impaired sister. Trump was impressed with Troy’s ability to read a situation and remain poised under stressful conditions. Troy’s intuitive understanding for the feelings of others also impressed clients, from rap mogul Russell Simmons to designer Isaac Mizrahi, and made him a top negotiator on his team.

6.  Sociability. Part of the profile of a candidate for “The Apprentice” is being extroverted and friendly. Kwame Jackson is a great example of a personable leader. His people skills played a huge role in his landing in the final two on season one, especially considering his track record. Kwame had the dubious distinction of being on the losing team 10 out of 12 times! In addition to being smart, and backed by an MBA from Harvard, he had an affable, outgoing nature and easily bonded with all of the other candidates. He found a way to swim in the shark-filled waters of a fierce 13-week job interview without damaging his relationships with his teammates and competitors. Kwame created an environment of trust, which is vital in today’s corporate environment.

Adapted from Suite Success: The Psychologist from "The Apprentice’ Reveals What It Really Takes to Excel—in the Boardroom and in Life, by Liza Siegel, Ph.D. (AMACOM, 2006).

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