At school, or on the job, smarts will undoubtedly help you. But there is one element that will help you more, and it doesn’t involve the ability to create esoteric financial models. It’s called motivation. And if you are just starting your career and don’t have a robust track record of professional accomplishments, motivation can be your best friend.

Possessing a high level of horsepower may give you a lengthy winning streak at chess games with friends, but all the cerebral firepower in the world can’t help you if you fail to produce on the job. In the workplace, what matters most are results (and where quality is often favored over quantity). Achieving (great) results is not always easy. Sometimes you’ve got to drum up your inner cheerleader (or whatever motivating force you choose) to learn new things, overcome obstacles, form solutions, and ultimately keep your eye on the prize.  Sometimes this also means boosting the spirits of flagging teammates or direct reports.  IQ may impress, but it doesn’t inspire.

In the real world, some employers weigh the only track record you may have: grades. Some weigh them heavily – either as a proxy for intelligence, or as evidence of a strong work ethic – and some don’t consider them at all. In general (and depending on your career path and ambitions), after a few years on the job you may never discuss your grades again.  But if you change jobs, or are vying for a promotion, you can be certain that you will be asked about your professional track record: your on-the-job successes.  At some point in your career, and earlier rather than later, your list of professional accomplishments will trump GPA and test scores.

In an interview with former Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO, Norman Augustine, Jonathan Wai, elicited this insight from Augustine: “Earlier in my career we used college grades as the best indicator of future performance among new graduates. Unfortunately, the extraordinary inflation that has taken place in grades in recent decades has made grades all but meaningless to potential employers. Some of the companies with which I have been associated (as a member of their board) have thus placed emphasis on IQ tests and many of those companies have been extremely successful in identifying talent in this manner. My own experience, however, has been that motivation will beat raw intelligence almost every time.”

Augustine doesn’t stop there. He goes on to explain that an employee’s motivation can help predict “future contributions.” This is an especially helpful piece of advice for those making the transition from student to professional. Because by the time you reach the interview round with a job prospect your “hard” skill set has already been mostly assessed.  This is the step where the recruiter, or interview panel, is attempting to determine a number of things about you that may not be on your resume:  cultural fit, attitude, communication skills, and energy level.  It also represents a window of opportunity for you to reference the times your skyscraper-high level of motivation propelled you through thorny issues, team dysfunctions, and helped you to ultimately prevail. The real world has ever-persistent thorny issues and team dysfunctions, and an employer wants to know that you won’t be daunted. Think of motivation as full-body protective armor for the real world. But, if you choose the shield of IQ instead, it could be your Achilles’ heel.

I’ll leave you with one last point.  A newly released study by researchers at the Universities of Munich and Bielefeld looked at the math abilities of over 3,000 primary and high school students. They found that “intelligence was strongly linked to students’ math achievement, but only in the initial development of competence in the subject. Motivation and study skills turned out to be more important factors in terms of students’ growth,” as they progressed in their course of study, according to Kou Murayama, Ph.D., one of the researchers.

“‘Our study suggests that students’ competencies to learn in math involve factors that can be nurtured by education,’ said Murayama. ‘Educational programs focusing on students’ motivation and study skills could be an important way to advance their competency in math as well as in other subjects.”

To read more on the study, click here.

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Flotographic Arts.

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