What I Wish I Knew Then: Gloria Story Dittus

"Talent will take you to the top, but only character will keep you there."

Wise words from Gloria Story Dittus, chairman of Story Partners, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

Dittus took time to answer a few questions from Hill Navigator for "What I Wish I Knew Then," and she proves that even the most successful people in Washington know the value of answering the phones well.

Where did you start?

After graduating from college, my first job was in the U.S. Senate answering telephones. While I was excited about being in Washington, D.C., I questioned what good was a college degree if all I was doing was just answering the phone. But then a best friend’s father — who was a car dealer — told me something I’ll never forget and it changed me from that moment forward. He said an employer takes a risk on hiring someone and giving them a job. He went on to say, “Whatever job you might have, do it better than anyone has ever done so before. Step up and offer to do more, come in early, stay late and ask how else you can contribute.” That simple advice completely changed my thinking as a young college graduate. So I took his advice and put my head down, did my job well and started to really understand the importance of hard work, regardless of the job.

And today, I think I still probably answer phones better than anybody.

What is some of the best advice given to you, and by whom?

A mentor of mine from Alabama Power, Julian Smith, once told me the most important thing was “to get on the field, put points on the board and make something happen.” I took that advice to heart and vowed not to end up being a “note-taker” but someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I figured out how to get around obstacles and make something good happen. It’s been the most valuable career enhancing advice I ever received.

"What I didn’t know then but I do know now ... ?"

The harder you work, the luckier you get. Early in my career I would often marvel at people who seemed to “luck” into great opportunities. When I looked behind the curtain, I realized that people who worked hard made their own luck. There’s just no shortcut to a successful career.

What pays off in the long run?

My grandmother always told me that talent will take you to the top, but only character will keep you there. After 30 years in Washington, I have watched very talented people turn down the wrong path, and their careers and lives have come tumbling down around them. My grandmother’s wisdom about the value of character has always been a guiding beacon for me.

Fill the blanks: Don’t waste your energy trying to take credit or shine the spotlight on yourself but do put the extra effort into building a strong team of allies and those you can trust. After all, success has many fathers and mothers, but failure is an orphan.

Looking for more wisdom? Check out Eric Dezenhall's words of advice. 

Topics: wish-i-knew