Keys to Career Success Include Flexibility and Integrity Credit: Dreamstime

Success in business or a career is not a linear trajectory, says Joan Amble, American Express' executive vice-president and corporate comptroller. The self-described "recovering workaholic" explained at a recent talk that flexibility and attention to detail are more important than ever.

Good old-fashioned integrity is even in fashion now, she said.

In the past, Amble said, excellence and execution were keys to fuel a career . But in an environment where what used to be a differentiation is "now the common denominator" she said there are three specific areas where attention to detail helps to set one apart:

  • Flexibility
  • An understanding of relationships
  • Creation of your own personal board of directors

"You must be able to bend but not break," Amble told an audience at the UCLA Anderson School of Management's Distinguished Speaker Series. "You must be flexible."

That means knowing that every step on one's professional path is not necessarily to the next highest rung.

"Careers," she said, "move up, down and sideways" and the ability to adapt to a given situation and a willingness to take on tasks both beneath you and above you is important.

Amble spoke mostly about corporate careers, but the same advice would serve a small business owner well.

Amble's preaches about work-life balance, which she said is a corporate belief at American Express. Managers should find flexible ways to allow their employees to find their own work-life balance , while at the same time managers must have the confidence to approach their own bosses when necessary in order to find their own work-life equilibrium.

She also says cooperation is key to success in business .

"Work is a team sport," Amble said. "You need to collaborate, not compete."

So what's a "personal board of directors" all about?

Individuals are not necessarily objective when it comes to career (or personal) decisions, Amble says. A personal board of directors "is able to offer constructive advice, tough love (when necessary) and a boost of confidence (when needed)," she said. "One's personal board of directors should change over time and everyone should ask themselves who they trust when forming this key cluster of advisors."

Lastly, Amble spoke about integrity, which she said has become a buzzword in the business community lately.

"Know who you are and what you want," she said. "But never compromise the first to get the second."