Lyndon Johnson’s 10 keys to success

Published May 8, 2017   Posted in How to Think

Success is a fickle thing. It comes easier to some than for others, but it’s almost never impossible to achieve. With the right attitude and a few good habits, success gets easier and easier. Apparently, former president Lyndon Johnson had something to say on the topic.

I learned about Johnson’s 10 keys to success from the book “The Magic of Thinking Big“. Good book. It was written back in the late 1950s, so references to salaries and other numbers are, in a word, downright hilarious.

Few people would accuse any president of lacking in the way of success. These individuals know how to connect with people. They manipulate the world around them in their favor. Lyndon Johnson was no exception.

I thought these keys were so interesting that I needed to write about them.

Lyndon Johnson’s 10 keys to success

  1. Remember names. Inefficiency at this point may indicate that your interest is not sufficiently outgoing.
  2. Maintain a comfortable persona so there is no strain in being with you. Be an old-show, old-had kind of individual.
  3. Acquire the quality of relaxed easy-going so that things do not ruffle you.
  4. Don’t be egotistical. Guard against the impression that you know it all.
  5. Be interesting so people will get something of value from their association with you.
  6. Get the “scratchy” elements out of your personality, even those of which you may be unconscious.
  7. Sincerely attempt to heal every misunderstanding you have had or now have. Drain off your grievances.
  8. Practice liking people until you learn to do so genuinely.
  9. Never miss an opportunity to congratulate anyone’s achievement, or express sympathy in sorry or disappointment.
  10. Give spiritual strength to people and they will give genuine affection to you.

In truth, I suck at almost all of these. I am horrible with names and I would consider my entire personality to be fairly “scratchy”. Though, I am about as easy-going as it comes, and I definitely don’t consider myself to be a know-it-all (to point 4). I don’t necessarily like everyone I meet, though. At least automatically. I need to practice implicitly liking people more!

The one point that I got down pat is maintaining a comfortable persona. It’s like being with an old friend when you’re around me. I will ask you inappropriate questions after we first meet. I will pretty much agree to anything within reason. I’m not all that hard-headed. You wanna try a new IPA at the brewery? I’m game (even though I hate IPAs). Have an interest in fishing next weekend? Sure, why not (I don’t enjoy fishing). I’m a very go-with-the-flow kind of person.

Or, want to try cross-dressing to finish out the week? Okay…might draw the line here, but after a few IPAs…maybe not? You get the point.

Remembering names is super powerful. Have you ever had someone end the initial conversation with strong eye contact and a “it was a pleasure to meet you, Bill / Nancy”? When they use your name, it creates a powerful connection between you two.

My in-laws do this incredibly well. At restaurants, they make a point of getting the waiter or waitress’s name and they use it. The service has a way of getting better that way. Our drinks always seem to remain full. Sometimes, discounts (or intentional omissions) wind up on the check. We even had a waitress give us a coupon for a free beer at my favorite Tucson brewery because we were nice to her and called her by name (yes, she told us so!).

Being nice and using names really works.

Reading keys to success is a fun exercise…so fun, in fact, that I feel compelled to come up with 10 keys of my own. Whatcha think?

Cold selfie from Zion National Park

My 10 keys to success

  1. Be an agreeable person
  2. Be relentlessly happy – always
  3. Care not what other people think of you
  4. Never expect perfection; it is unattainable
  5. Don’t hate; it takes way the hell too much energy
  6. Do not worry about elements outside of your control
  7. Have confidence in yourself; believe that you will succeed
  8. Make the best decisions you can and commit to them 100%
  9. Be proactive – don’t wait for things to happen; make them happen
  10. Never forget your mistakes; learn from them to make fewer of them

What are your keys to success? Here’s a challenge – write about your keys to success in one of your next blog posts. Just like I did with Johnson’s keys, give us your thoughts on his keys, then write your own. How many of Johnson’s points come naturally to you?

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24 responses to “Lyndon Johnson’s 10 keys to success”

  1. I suck at most of these as well. I think of all of them I am probably best at #9 since I have to cheer lead at work a lot to get my team moving in the right direction. But for the most part I have a ton of improvement that I need to do in all these areas. But if we were all perfect that wouldn’t make us as interesting, right? 🙂

  2. Matt @ Optimize Your Life says:

    That’s really interesting. It looks like most of Johnson’s points are about establishing charisma and making people like you, while yours are about establishing a sort of self-sustaining happiness so you don’t need people to like you. His make sense for a politician (especially one that built his reputation on being able to work with everyone in the Senate). Yours make more sense for the average person. I think all 20 are useful things to remember and to work on.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, I agree – key point is about charisma, or connecting with those around you. But yeah, whether geared towards politics or just everyday life, success can be built out of almost anything.

  3. After reading a few biographys about Johnson back in high school AP History class his 10 keys make a lot of sense. Spoiler alert, he was a somewhat ruthless user of that charisma. I lack a lot of those qualities in his list as well. If I were a politician that might mean the kiss of death. As a regular person, like you, Charisma is less my end goal. I like your list better. Even there I see opportunities for improvement in myself, but it’s closer to my end goals.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks FTF. I agree, my list is probably a bit more approachable, but Johnson’s list ain’t too shabby, either. If only I were a little better at many of those things… 😉

  4. DadsDollarsDebts says:

    Being proactive is a key to success for sure. I know more then a few people who are stagnant because they won’t make opportunities for themselves. I mean, look at this piece of real estate (Albeit virtual!) you have created and all from being proactive. As for me, I am too relaxed sometimes and say inappropriate things when people are just getting to know me. Probably not the best quality to have.

    • Steve says:

      Hehe, I have a little bit of that going on too. But hey, who’s to say what is appropriate and what isn’t, anyway? 🙂

  5. I really love the idea of acknowledging other people’s accomplishments. It’s so easy to fall into a “me, me, me” mentality these days; it’s better to focus on other people instead of yourself all the time.

    Here are my rules for success:

    Dress the part. I used to think I could function in holey yoga pants and an old t-shirt. Turns out, I do better work when I dress up.
    Bring donuts. Bringing baked goods has been the single best conversation-starter in my professional career. A homemade cookie is sure to make that bitch Linda in accounting is nicer to you. I’ve even gotten extra favors just for the tasty baked goods I’ve given people.
    Be honest. If you don’t like the presentation or idea, say so.
    Don’t be lazy. It’s tempting to coast for a day, but put in the hard work, especially when others aren’t.
    Be early. It’s never failed me yet. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Nice, Mrs. Picky Pincher! It’s true that people draw instant judgments based on what you’re wearing. Nice touch on the baked goods…and I agree, sugar does wonders. And, it’s nice to know someone who’s always early! I’m notoriously early…have been my whole life. In fact, incessant tardiness is definitely a pet peeve of mine!

  6. TheRetirementManifesto says:

    I find it interesting that all 10 of LBJ’s “Keys” focus on interpersonal skills. Nothing about $$, nothing about becoming an expert in your field, etc. I’m taking your challenge, Steve, and just started a draft on my site. Will give you credit for the idea, will be interesting if others jump on the bandwagon.

    • Divnomics says:

      Really liked that part as well. Their all elements that people often neglect or forget about, in my opinion. It’s easy not to see your scratchy side or just thinking forgetting peoples names is something you can’t do anything about. (i’m terrible at that by the way).

      I’ve would also list the following: be a giving person, continue to learn always, and don’t let fear hold you back.

    • Steve says:

      Beautiful! And yup, I noticed the same thing, Fritz. Nothing about money or being “the best”. It’s about connecting with others and generally not being an asshole while getting what you want. Go figure!

  7. Mrs Groovy says:

    I’m best at your numbers 4 and 8 and I’m practicing Johnson’s #8 (yes, I’m practicing practicing). Throughout our marriage I’ve said Mr. G is the nice guy and I’m the bi*ch.

    Johnson’s #1 about eye contact and your follow up about your in-laws reminds me of what people have said about Bill Clinton in his heyday – “When he talks to you, you feel as if you’re the only person in the room”. I’ve known a few people with that kind of personal charisma. Can it be learned?

  8. Amy Blacklock says:

    I think I do fairly well at most of the things on LBJ’s list, and need to work on #3 & #4 from your list. Interesting challenge! I’ve been writing about some of my in my current blog series, i just haven’t called them out as that. Perhaps the last post in the series should be just that. Thanks for sharing and prompting us, Steve! 🙂

  9. Wade says:

    I try and try to teach our 3 kids not to use the word “hate”. Something may not “be your favorite” or “not your first or second choice”.

    I laughed at your “I hate IPAs” comment. Oops. Failed at #5. You don’t “hate” IPAs, they are “not your favorite” or “not your first, second or thirteenth favorite”. 🙂

    I am “not a fan” of lists generally, but both are very interesting. Lyndon Johnson’s are quite interesting. Thanks!

    • Steve says:

      That sounds like an excellent lesson to teach your youngsters, Wade. I wish more parents would do that with their kids. Besides, “hate” takes way too much energy anyway. 🙂

  10. Yeah, that is a tough list to follow! Here is a list of ideas that I can’t take any original credit for, but they are ideas that stick with me all the time. This would be my list. I’m going off memory, so I might be mis-quoting and some phrases, I can’t even remember where I first heard them.

    Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.
    Live simply, so others can simply live. – Gandhi
    Use your ears, not your ego.
    Act like a human being, not a human doing.
    No one is free until everyone is free. – Fannie Lou Hamer
    Be for something, not against something. – Peace Pilgrim
    Money can fund your purpose, but it can’t find your purpose.
    Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.- Carl Jung
    You don’t have to think outside the box, it you refuse to let anyone put you in a box. – Sir Richard Branson
    Don’t focus on what can be measured, focus on what can provide meaning. – Warren Buffett

    • Steve says:

      Ooo, I like it! And especially your first point – don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. Very well said, and definitely a wise point to understand. Listen more than you speak (your third) is another good one I’ve come to learn over the years (the hard way!).

  11. Matt Miller says:

    My favorite is your #7: Have confidence in yourself. People underestimate what they can do and it has a lot to do with confidence. We live in a world where anything is possible.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Matt! Confidence is so very important. If we think we can, we generally can. Life is so much about what we think. It’s a mind game. Those of us who figure out how to win at that game have a distinct advantage over the rest. Every time!

  12. […] Save Retire dropped some LBJ knowledge on success. Another history lesson I guess but a good one. For instance, you should remember names and be […]

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