Maximize Your Career Potential with These 7 Steps

The job functions we specialize in today may not be applicable in the future. Just take my career path as an example.

Today, I lead the Financial Services division at Capital One. But I took the most curious path to get here - from naval architecture and marine engineering in India to consumer goods in Canada then banking in America. The jobs I’ve specialized in throughout my career had nothing to do with each other. And outside of engineering, I had zero experience in any of the fields in which I worked.

Often, people think they need a checklist when moving to different industries or specialties, and they get hung up on not having the right skillset for the job. I used to think the same until I realized the product I was offering wasn’t my was myself!

If I had let my skillset define me, I wouldn't be where I am today. I had to adapt. I had to be the CEO of my success.

I know what you’re thinking - not everyone can be a CEO - but I believe that “CEO” is more than a position, it’s a state of mind. All over the world, there are leaders - who aren’t technically CEOs - who have been wildly successful. Think about a CEO you admire. While some things have changed over the years (and lessons were certainly learned), they’ve probably always had a CEO mindset. In my observation, and through my own experience, there are seven ways to maximize your potential and shift your thinking to CEO as a mindset.

Know Your Purpose

Growing up in Kolkata, I often had the opportunity of working with Mother Teresa at her orphanage. Her purpose in life was to take care of those who were the least capable of taking care of themselves. What I learned from her is, without purpose, everything else will fail. This was a huge motivator for me personally as a leader and also in transforming businesses.

Purpose is the driving force behind everything you’ll ever do, and it has never been more important than right now. Understanding your purpose starts with understanding yourself. What you believe as an individual is incredibly important in determining your career destination because your purpose should align with your company’s purpose.

The most successful leaders know that a clear purpose is the catalyst for driving transformation. Purpose enables organizations to rise up and create incredible things. In fact, according to a recent survey by Capital One, 90% of leaders who responded believe that purpose-driven companies outperform their peers over the long run. 93% say their companies will be more purpose-driven in 2019 compared to 2018. Having a clear purpose is essential to future success, as an individual and as a company.

Be Disciplined

Most folks stress over their constraints - budget, time, personnel, resources, working environment, etc. They’re always working toward the next big promotion or cutting-edge role because they think their constraints will eventually dissolve. But constraints never go away, they just change. CEOs understand that everyone has constraints. We can achieve greater success if we have the discipline to focus our time and attention on long-term goals, while embracing, learning from and innovating within our constraints.

Be Passionate

True enthusiasm for a business, its products, its people and its mission cannot be faked. CEOs have an eternal optimism bubbling inside them. They are passionate about what they’re working on and what makes them tick. CEOs don’t fester on the negative, or what’s not working, but rather what is possible and how to solve things that aren’t. When CEOs are sincerely enthusiastic and passionate, it’s contagious!

Communicate and Listen

Treat your coworkers like a CEO would treat their stakeholders. Communicate clearly and carefully to them. Don’t just assume people understand - ensure you set clear expectations and continually reiterate your message. This requires patience, but it’s one of the most important parts of the job. Some of my colleagues joke about my token sayings, but I know they’ve heard me! You must also listen to everyone - outside parties, other innovators, regulators, peers and employees at all levels - to cultivate fresh ideas and perspectives. And don’t just make people feel like you are listening, actually listen to them.

Leverage Others

Leverage other people and resources to help yourself succeed. Successful CEOs leverage everyone and everything around them - for problem-solving, motivation and collaboration. The folks around you are your resources. Training, technology, books and podcasts are your resources. Leverage them to help chart your path forward. Remember, your product is not your skillset - it’s you. Build yourself up by embracing learning agility, along with a desire to be flexible, resourceful, adaptable and thoughtful.

Let Others Lead

We can’t do everything alone! Great leadership is often demonstrated by empowering others to lead - whether that person is a peer, superior or direct report. Successful CEOs know they aren’t always the expert. They know when to take a back seat, let others showcase their talent and provide insight into their area of expertise. 96% of the business leaders surveyed believe that possessing a growth mindset is important in achieving business transformation. When I say “growth mindset” I mean the belief that employees can develop abilities through continual learning, hard work and perseverance to see failures and challenges as opportunities to improve. Imagine your business thriving because you’ve empowered an entire workforce to embrace a growth mindset.

Take Care of Yourself

We tend to take care of everyone and everything around us (professionally and personally), and put ourselves last. But, physical and mental health is so critical to being successful. Let’s take astronauts as an example. The rigor of space travel is intense - both mentally and physically. Mentally, astronauts grapple with fear, isolation and an astronomical amount of responsibility (pun intended!). That responsibility is amplified tenfold for the commanding pilot, who is responsible for maneuvering the shuttle, the safety of the crew and the overall success of the mission. So let’s say there’s a commanding pilot who is running around, working hard, trying to get everything in order for a new space mission, but hardly sleeps at night. Then, there’s another who’s well-rested, prepared and calmly reflects on what needs to happen and what doesn't. Who would you rather travel into space with? Taking time to care for yourself will pay massive dividends in the long run.

These are fairly simple and intuitive learnings, but they have made such a big difference in my own life and career. I challenge you to discover your purpose and implement at least three of these mindsets over the next 30 days. Remember who the product is. If you walk with purpose, you will collide with your destiny.


As President of Financial Services, Sanjiv Yajnik has spent the last 20 years living out Capital One’s vision to dream, disrupt and deliver a better way. He is a firm believer in combining customer-back design, technology and innovative operational structures to unleash success.

Yajnik is a featured speaker at this year’s Capital One House at SXSW -- to learn more, visit Capital.One/SXSW.

Sanjiv Yajnik, President, Financial Services

As President of Financial Services at Capital One, Sanjiv leveraged his background and passions in Engineering, Art and Business, to assemble a world-class team, and to transform every aspect of our business and how the company works.

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