7 Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career & The Characteristics of a Winner

 By Terry Connelly, former GGU Ageno School of Business Dean

In my last blog post, I talked about running your career strategy like a business. Here I get down to skills you need in a finance or other business job – and how to be a true winner and leader.

The Skills


Learn to think in non-US currencies. While business “language” is most predominantly English, globalization has made far more than one currency relevant to business strategy and financial practice. Regional currencies have survived, and trade in pairs, to some extent in a zero-sum game. Public perceptions of the US dollar’s purchasing power change with tides of global central bank policies and national trade policies, which are currently a preoccupation of every US taxpaying business with foreign operations and profits and intellectual property. Do this exercise: spend a week translating all your expenses and investments into Euros or yen.


In meetings, if you are not chairing, always be ready (and even volunteer) to be the note-taker! It’s not demeaning; it’s empowering. Making the record of discussion flow can become a very important role. It often yields access to more senior executives and follow-up responsibilities. If there is a document under discussion, be happy to be the “mark-up master.” You will remember the important decision points in the meeting better and be a “go-to” person for the next draft. If you have ideas to contribute, train yourself to “draft in the air” (i.e., gather precise language in your thoughts before you even write them down on the shared document), so you are immediately prepared to defend them. Don’t rely on your “stream of consciousness” – get good and conscious before you stream!


Read people acutely; don’t jump to conclusions. Always challenge your assumptions about others’ motivations. Truly keep an open mind, listen, and read critically before you respond (particularly in terms of texts or e-mail; the latter have solved the problem of immortality as well as ultimate transparency!) Don’t underestimate the usefulness of walking down the hall to chat, because you can’t read body language in print or even optimally in a video conference. Admit when you don’t know an answer without giving up the chance to go get the answer.

Know your authentic business ‘personality’ and stay true to it.


Thinking outside the box can be learned. Try to focus on facts or nuances that others are missing or dismissing. Avoid the “not invented here” syndrome affecting many bureaucracies and entrenched lines of business. Pick your spots, however, when mounting a challenge to conventional wisdom – don’t become easily branded as a “contrarian.”


Pay close attention to internal politics – then rise above it. Do not become trapped in other peoples’ disputes unnecessarily. When you are a party to a disagreement, always show respect for your adversaries. There are seldom permanent work enemies. If you are in charge of a working group or committee, be flexible enough to include, rather than exclude, those whom you expect will disagree with the group direction, or your own – unless it’s clear they would participate only to disrupt.


Build others’ trust in your ethics and your judgment. Get known for fair and measured assessments of situations. Be the “sane one” in a room or workspace full of rancor. And never disparage your own proven abilities – it confuses people and makes them wary of your intentions. Don’t surprise colleagues too often; let them have a good general sense of “where you are coming from.” Let the surprise be the special insight –  not that it’s coming from you. Be neither “predictable” nor “unpredictable.”


Treat any workplace relationship or interpersonal conduct not relating to business as though its essence could be disclosed on a major social media or another news site at any time – and act accordingly. When in doubt, disclose; if you can’t disclose, don’t act.

Those are the skills, but here are the personal qualities you want to develop to be a winner and a leader.

  • Know your authentic business “personality” and stay true to it. Play within your competence; and if that’s not enough to succeed, seek to expand your competence.
  • Be committed to getting to the bottom of things. Don’t settle for superficial agreement or avoidance because the issue is “too hard.” Do not keep a permanent “too hard” file, if at all possible.
  • Be sure of your facts. Be truly well-informed. Take care in all things – including the “little” things.
  • Be objective: Don’t fear to admit the strengths of another person’s position or argument. Remember the argument based on your authority is the weakest.
  • Be discrete in what to say, and when to say it. Keep legitimate confidences. Never agree “not to tell the boss” if the boss has the need to know, even as a favor to a close friend or mentor.
  • Be the first to define reality and the first to say thank you. Intelligence, integrity, and charm will take you a long way – integrity is the essential one, and the hardest one to fake in the long run.

About Terry Connelly

terry-connellyTerry Connelly is an economic expert and Dean Emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University. With more than 30 years of experience in investment banking, law and corporate strategy on Wall Street and abroad, Connelly analyses the impact of government politics and policies on local, national and international economies, examining the interaction of global financial markets, the U.S. banking industry (and all of its regulatory agencies), the Federal Reserve, domestic employment levels and consumer reactions to the changing economic tides. He holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore (corporate, securities and litigation practice in New York and London), global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and Cowen & Company’s investments, where he served as CEO. In conjunction with past Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Connelly co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education (2011). Riptide deconstructs the changing landscape of higher education in the face of the for-profit debacle, graduation gridlock, and staggering student debt, and asserts a new, sustainable model for progress. He is a board member of the Public Religion Research Institute, a Washington, DC think tank and polling organization, and the Cardiac Therapy Foundation in Palo Alto, California. Connelly lives in Palo Alto with his wife.

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