The “It” Factor

Years ago when I was a young salesman, I studied the outstanding salesmen in my organization. Some had great product knowledge, some had great personalities, and others worked very hard, but the only common trait that I could find was tenacity. A very few had “it”; they just closed deals!

People who really excel at what they do are sometimes said to have “it”; some intangible trait that makes them stand out from others. Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Steven Jobs, W. Edwards Deming, and Billy Graham are twentieth-century leaders who attracted a large following, were greatly admired, and exerted widespread influence.

There is an old adage in business that an entrepreneur can only take his company to a certain level and then must give way to a “professional” manager to take it to the next level.  Steven Jobs started an upstart computer company by doing things different. When Apple reached a plateau, the Apple Board of Directors jettisoned him and brought in a proven corporate leader. The company foundered until they brought Jobs back and again the company took off. Steve Jobs had “it” in the business world.

Sportswriters talk of quarterbacks having talent and/or “it”. They may have great talent and be good quarterbacks, but if they do not have “it”, they won’t be great. Of the two traits, the most important seems to be “it”. They may have average talent but seem to get the most out of themselves and their team and win. It is that intangible something that elevates them above the crowd. A few entertainers, a few politicians, and a few business leaders have “it” as well.  What can we learn from them to help us in our careers?

I must confess that I am not a psychologist and am on shaky ground with this subject, but I believe it is worth discussing. I have three questions-what is “it”, how can one acquire “it”, and how does one sustain “it”.

In an attempt to describe “it”, I made the following table:

“It” is

“It” isn’t

Ability to bring out best in others Oblivious of others
Supremely self-confident Arrogant
Intense focus on the task at hand Vacillating from one task to another
Continually learning Knows enough
Strong belief in their purpose Lip service to purpose or aim
Creative with ideas and goals Reactive
They imitate no one Copy others
Competitive with themselves Satisfied with self
Driving always to be better & smarter Good enough
Self-motivated, self-starters Respond to outside influences
Charisma Necessarily likeable
Perseverance, dogged tenacity Give up when the outlook is bleak
Winner Wins some of the time


You may want to develop your own list. It will be different because you have different observations and experiences.

The next question is how to acquire “it” or if it is even possible. Do you acquire “it” or are you born with “it”? You may not have been born with “it”, but you can certainly improve. You can’t just copy because all people have different talents and skills, but you can look at a list like above and decide what might benefit you. Think about it.

The next question is how to sustain “it”. Assuming it is not simply something that you are born with, it is possible to lose “it”? Therefore you have to constantly pay attention to your attitude, action, language (both oral and body), energy, and desire.

“It” is an intangible trait, but seemingly very important in order to rise to the highest level. This article does not, indeed cannot, supply the explanation and magic roadmap to attaining “it”, but it is interesting to think about and discuss with colleagues. Study of the characteristics of respected and admired leaders seems essential. The ability to seek and take advice, total focus and drive to succeed, learning from experience of success and failure, and active study of human nature and one’s vocation also seem essential.

Constant striving for improvement in our work and home life may be the secret  “it” for us to work toward.

Special thanks to Ed Poitras and John Persico for their contributions to this article.


2 Responses

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    1. Thank you. I must admit that I am an engineer and not a journalist, or even an english major but I enjoy sharing what I learned in thirty years of management consulting.

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