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7 Signs of a Future Success Story If you want to be tomorrow's success story, you've got to do the right things and act the right way today.

By Steve Tobak

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Two decades ago at a small tech-industry conference in Pebble Beach, Calif., I met Masayoshi Son, the founding CEO of a relatively small Japanese software-distribution company named SoftBank. Today, Son is the richest man in Japan and chairman of an Internet and telecommunications empire valued at close to $100 billion.

Even then, I could tell Son was a force to be reckoned with. He had a chip on his shoulder bigger than he was and a vision for his company that had some people wondering if the man had delusions of grandeur. And now, he's one of the most powerful and respected entrepreneurs on earth.

When you get to know some people, you can tell they're going to make a real difference someday. You can tell by certain aspects of their behavior, if you know what to look for. Not only do you want to recognize and associate with those people, you also want to look for – and find – those same signs in yourself.

Lots of "Oh $#*!" moments.

If the best phrase that describes your career is "never a dull moment," that's a good sign that you're taking risks and pushing the envelope. Don't think for a minute that the fortunes of a successful entrepreneur go straight up and to the right. On the contrary, they more closely resemble the chart of a volatile stock.

Related: The Only Good Reasons to Start a Business

The need to prove yourself.

Don't ask me why, but the need to prove yourself often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That factor had a lot to do with the success of a long list of great entrepreneurs who grew up with adversity including Son, Steve Jobs, the musician Sting, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and a host of others.

Functional expertise.

Expertise, especially in a highly marketable field, is perhaps the most unassailable barrier to competitive incursion you can have. In plain English, that means bargaining power in an employment situation and pricing power in a business situation. It's a "must have" if you want to be successful over the long haul.


When it comes to execution, you had Jobs and his meticulous attention to detail on one end of the spectrum and Mark Zuckerberg's The Hacker Way, "move fast and break things," at the other extreme. Which is it? Both … and everything in between. There are lots of ways to execute, just be sure you deliver the goods.

Relentless drive to win.

If your motivation to succeed is the most powerful and tenacious force that drives you, then there's little doubt that you will. A competitive spirit that never gives up is not easily marginalized. It also portends great things to come. But make no mistake, it is a highly competitive world.

Related: 10 Things Successful People Do Differently

Strong work ethic.

It may not be enough to guarantee fame and fortune, but if you put your work priorities ahead of everything else and lose sleep when you're not meeting your commitments and getting the job done, then customers and other stakeholders will know they can count on you. That's huge.

Competition … for your services.

There's no more definitive sign of up-and-coming success than customers or employers competing for your services. But don't let it go to your head. Remember, the reason they want you is not about you but what you can do for them. If you don't consistently deliver on your promises, you'll see those suitors disappear in a heartbeat.

These days, people think they can just quit their day jobs, create a website, build a personal brand, market their services, do some growth hacking, and, voila!, the business will come. The irony is, the web is nothing more than a distribution channel. It has absolutely nothing to do with your potential to succeed in business.

Remember, the web lowered the barriers to entry – to become an entrepreneur – for a billion people, not just for you. It's a competitive world. If you want to be tomorrow's success story, you've got to do the right things and act the right way today.

Related: 7 Lessons for Dealing with Defeat

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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