12 Characteristics of A-Players

12 Characteristics of A-Players

12 Characteristics of A-Players

By Samuel Aiki


You will not be a big hit right away. You will not get rich quick. You are not so special that everyone else will instantly pay attention. No one cares about you. At least not yet. Get used to it. – Rework, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson.


Steve Jobs, his business philosophy opposite, Bill Gates, Sara Blakely (Spanx), Marissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo!), Michael Jordan, Warren Buffet, Stephen Spielberg, Richard Branson, Masaru Ibuka, Ben Carson and loads of successful people all over the world are often asked what made them so successful. Most of them would refer to certain defining moments in their lives, their mentors, adversity, core-ideology, perfectionism, ingenuity, industry and love for what they do as key to their successes. I have often wondered why many geniuses never make it to the front-cover of time magazine, why many creative thinkers end up in office cubicles, why many nitpicking whiz kids never build successful computer programs, not to talk of revolutionizing several industries, why the smartest guys in kindergarten never really got very far, why the guys that often got into the most trouble in senior secondary start successful businesses, why GPAs and valedictorian awards count for little, why only a few of us get to convert yesterday’s successes into tomorrow’s breakthroughs. I wonder if those successful people really could say with certainty, what made them so successful.


I discovered that the enviable results successful people obtain are linked to certain encounters in life that teach them life’s most important lesson – effective decision making. They cultivate a set of habits that shape the way they choose their paths when they arrive at those confusing crossroads. They maneuver uncertainty skillfully and make false positives look irrelevant. They seem to possess an internal compass that shapes most of their decisions. Are they ever wrong? They go wrong more times than the rest of us! They try so many things and thus make their failure rates seem irrelevant.



I identified 12 characteristics successful people share.


  1. They have an opposable core-ideology – they stand for something! A test of their core ideology is the existence of an opposing view point. For example, a core ideology that reads “To produce highly effective mobile payment solutions” is a weak choice. This is because no one “produces an ineffective mobile payment solution.” A better core ideology, “To produce highly effective mobile payment solutions that would serve the unbanked” better reveals a strong core because some other persons have produced mobile payment solutions for those who have access to banking services. Successful people define their missions as what the world would miss if they were not here. Imagine moving around without GPSs?


  1. They take responsibility – they never give excuses. When they don’t measure up, they own up! They don’t blame others. That is why they succeed! Someone once said “between ‘it dropped’ and ‘I dropped it’, a lot of learning has taken place.”


  1. They are persistent – successful people see their problems off! They keep hitting the boulders until they become pebbles. They believe that if their loads are heavy, they need stronger backs, not lighter loads!


  1. They don’t run country clubs and they enjoy the company of fellow A-players – successful people avoid time wasters. They believe relationships either add to them or take away from them. They build solid networks of kindred spirits around them. They avoid bozos like a plague! They embrace challenging and stimulating environments.


  1. They don’t count numbers, they count impacts and contributions – successful people don’t count the number of hours for which they worked. They determine how productive those hours were. They look for real, quantifiable results. They roast what they caught from hunting.
  2. They are addicted to continuous self-improvement – successful people might not be the most educated people around. But they grow consistently over time. They learn new things, try out new things, challenge themselves and make yesterday’s feat today’s joke. Compare Apple II to the Mac.


  1. They do yin yang – successful people look at life from multiple dimensions. They believe it is possible to be solid and flexible at the same time. They believe they can build successful businesses and still remain very entrepreneurial. They don’t take extreme positions. Successful people believe it is possible for two opposing ideologies to both arrive at the same destination.


  1. They use negative feedback loops more than positive ones – when a fool gets lucky, he boasts! When a wise man gets lucky, he plans! Successful people understand that seasons and times can change. They love concepts like economic cycles and business tides. They know that today’s fruit contains tomorrow’s tree.


  1. They run their own races and are ready to differ – they know that they only have so much time and energy to invest in their own causes. So, they ignore the competition. They set personal goals and measure their achievements against those goals. They know that life is not a zero sum game.


  1. They value diversity of opinions – successful people understand the value of diversity. They seek devil’s advocates and neutral minds. They question underlying assumptions and seek out facts for themselves.


  1. They are managers of one – successful people do! They don’t ask people to do and then supervise or criticize. They play with ideas, get into the details and get their hands dirty. They don’t believe in either pinstripe leadership or micromanagement. They set targets for their teams and then get out of the way to allow their people arrive at the results using their own methods and approaches.


  1. They know the wealth formula – what you own – what you owe = your net worth! They understand that the key agents of poverty are consumerism, excessive taxation and indebtedness.


It is noteworthy that successful people often times deviate from these principles. They fail! But a key characteristic of successful people is that they know when they are full of crap! They admit and then ask for the way to the loo!


Inspired by the founders of 37 Signals (Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson), Michael Preis (101 Things I learned in Business School), Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (Built to Last) and Marshall Goldsmith.


Samuel Aiki wrote this article. He is a co-founder at Foodlocker, an e-Commerce + Agritech + Retail start-up. He has strong interests in infrastructure development, business turnaround, brown and green field projects, strategic alliances, financial markets, operations, start-ups, capital raising, project finance, real estate and investments.