Research clearly shows that when it comes to success at work, either personal accomplishments or success as a leader, there are three critical factors. Here are the 3 keys/C’s to workplace success:

Competence. There is a reason why most job announcements and job interviews focus on work experience. It is assumed that experience equals competence (although that is not necessarily true). Competence is the first key to success for any job, and there is no more valuable qualification than to be competent.

I know an engineer who is tops in her field, but because she is a woman in a field dominated by men, and because she has small-minded bosses who have held her back, she has not been as successful (in terms of promotions) as she might be. However, I tell her that “competence will win out,” and she is receiving recognition in her profession and will most surely advance when there is a change in the decision makers at her job.

Conscientiousness. Attention to detail and ability to complete tasks fully and on time is the second key to workplace success. Conscientiousness is a personality trait, but one can develop it by simply paying attention to details and planning ahead in order to meet deadlines. Trust in the workplace is a big deal (and a requirement for successful leadership), and nothing builds trust better than knowing that you can be counted on.

The best research assistants I have had are conscientious – they complete work on time, check their work and rarely make mistakes, and often anticipate my needs and the requirements of the job.

Common Sense. I was originally going to write about the “Two Keys to Success,” but was reminded by a close (and wise) friend, that successful people have common sense. Drawing on the growing body of research on the importance of social intelligence, I agreed and added this to the list. Common sense involves the ability to see the big picture, to understand the dynamics of social interactions at work, and to figure out the unspoken rules that are in operation in any department and organization. Common sense, or social intelligence, is an imperative for success as a leader, and it makes you a very valuable (and respected) coworker.

When I mentor new colleagues, I often tell them to “figure out the rules” and understand what is required of them to succeed. Going hand-in-hand with common sense is the ability to get along with others. I am always surprised when people tell me, “I just do my job, and don’t worry about what other people think or about the ‘politics’ of the organization.” The reality is that for success you need to know how the “game is played” and politics is a workplace reality. You don’t have to be overly political, but you need to have tact and common sense.

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