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Winning At Working: the It Factor
by Nan Russell

American Idol judge, Simon Cowell, periodically remarks about the "it" factor when assessing contestants. It seems to be one of those nebulous, undefined and subjective attributes one either has or doesn't have. And it falls into the category of you-know-it-when-you-see-it. He's right. You do know it when you see it and that's true in the workplace, too.

Some people call it passion. And while that's part of it, it goes beyond the intense driving focus associated with passion. When I think of the hundreds of people I've hired in my career, there was one spark that yielded an unwavering yes decision; one spark that made me stop interviewing and put together a compelling offer; one spark worth searching unrelentingly to find.

What's that spark? Desire. Not a person's desire for the job, although interest and enthusiasm is always a plus. But their intention or aim; their desire for greatness. I use that word carefully. I don't mean greatness in the context of being a great or famous or distinguished person, or climbing a hierarchy to achieve status, power or influence.

Rather, the desire for greatness I'm referring to is tied to the seeds of possibility sprouting through their talents and abilities. You see, these people with the "it" factor desire to live their life's potential. They aren't out to win. They're out to become the unique person they are, to the fullest extent of their gifts. It's that desire that fuels their drive, motivation and persistence. It's that desire that keeps them learning and growing and stretching. It's that desire that makes them exceptional.

You see, most of us don't desire our own greatness. We cheat ourselves from becoming ourselves. We squander our unique gifts by copying other people's approaches and styles. We mimic others' successes thinking that if we follow their path or do what they do, we'll end up at the same destination. But emulating others doesn't unleash our individual uniqueness.

People with the "it" factor know the only path to their greatness is one of their own making. That's why you know them when you see them. These are people who stand out like a tulip in a rose garden. Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine defined them well when he said, "I don't want people who want to dance. I want people who have to dance."

But here's the thing. The "it" factor is not a limited edition attribute. The desire to live our own greatness is available for each of us if we tap into it. It's a personal choice we can make. That's what winning at working is all about: finding your it factor.

© 2006 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell may be contacted at
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Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at


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