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Good Habits of Top Performers

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Each career is unique.  But, looking more closely, there are a handful of skills and habits that “successful” people commonly share.  Here are four of them, based on my professional experience.  

Continuing learning 

This will require dedication and discipline—both of which are difficult to fit into a lifestyle of quasi-instant gratification.  Moreover, in an increasingly dynamic learning environment, the quality and cost (where "expensive" might not always equal "good") of materials and instruction can vary enormously.  

That said, continuing education is very important at every stage of one’s career. We tend to disregard it at the beginning when we are fresh out of school, as the steep on-the-job learning curve can give the misleading impression that we are reaching maximum capacity. However, this is not enough. Those who get ahead continue to learn early on, beyond the daily grind. This is even more critical as we progress in our careers, but without getting any easier. The most successful have turned learning into a habit.  

Identifying the right topics is also important. You might want to focus on topics that stretch the boundaries of your current knowledge and understanding, or practical skills that allow you to do things differently, or focus on areas where you feel you can improve. Nurture your curiosity and surround yourself with likeminded friends to keep you motivated. 

Be ready to cut your losses 

Numerous studies of behavioral theory and neurology have shown that humans are fundamentally loss-averse. We prefer to wait to cut our losses in the hope that losses will turn into gains. This is true for all losses—from our investment portfolios, to managerial and even personal losses—resulting in loss of money as well as substantial investments of time.  

To help decide when it is time to cut loose, you should start by knowing your end game: set realistic objectives that can be achieved in a reasonable time frame and evaluate your results as you reach the deadline. It’s not easy, and it requires a lot of discipline, so one might want to delegate the task to a third-party, such as a partner, a confidant, or a personal coach. The latter would cost even more money, thereby making the loss even greater and therefore the prospect of cutting it short even less appealing.

However, just being aware of this skill means you’re halfway into mastering it.

Communicating and listening 

Successful analysts are not only great at processing information, making evaluation and investment decisions, and knowing every minute's detail about their stocks and asset classes, but they are also really good at explaining their investment decisions and connecting with people. Lack of communication skills may become a serious obstacle while climbing the proverbial ladder. In fact, senior level professionals usually have a whole lot of soft skills. Strong communication skills can also lead to interesting lateral move into niche or specific segments of our industry, such as a career in wealth management, family offices, and investment advisory. These skills require a great deal of learning by doing, but daily work could become more productive and effective from them, and they might even have some positive impact on your personal life as well. 

Be wary of weak signals 

Modern day society is predicated on the very important virtues of patience and tolerance. What this means in practice though is that we usually let the little things slide, and try to address any conflicts or issues when things get really serious and when it’s often too late to rectify them. 

If you’re used to getting positive feedback on good performance, a weak signal could be an unusual lack of comment from your supervisor. Successful individuals don’t wait for the poor end-of-year performance review—they hear the weak signals and raise the issue with their supervisor right away. And weak signals can happen at various levels. They can tell you it’s time to jump ship because the company is going to be bought out, for example. The key to be mindful of is not to rationalize too much.

If you’re still with me by the end of this article, then I hope you’ve found something in my observations that might be useful for your career.  I look forward to seeing you at the top!

--Andreas Dal Santo, CFA, Consulting Director of Research for Banca d'Italia, member of NYSSA Board of Directors

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