Will Smith: The No. 1 one thing you can’t build a successful career without—you may already have it


The secret to success is simple, says Academy Award-winning actor Will Smith: Surround yourself with great people.

Success is “a team sport,” Smith, 54, said on a recent episode of “Hart to Heart,” comedian Kevin Hart’s Peacock talk show. “It’s like, who is at your right hand, who your friends are and who you’re with every day will make or break your dreams.”

Smith recalled several times his manager and business partner, James Lassiter, urged him to pursue opportunities that he wanted to pass up, some of which became career-defining roles that helped make Smith a household name.

Lassiter “just had an eye,” Smith said, adding: “I didn’t want to make the ‘Pursuit of Happiness.’ I didn’t want to make ‘Ali.'” The manager’s advice was an example of support and collective decision-making between Smith and his team, family and friends, Smith said.

“I knew I had to be the tip of the spear in terms of discipline [and] in terms of direction, but I always knew that I needed my squad,” he noted.

Smith also said he didn’t want to appear in “Men in Black,” so quickly after making another science fiction movie, “Independence Day.” Director Steven Spielberg convinced Smith to be in the film after sending a helicopter to bring him in for a meeting, where Spielberg grilled him about participating in the movie, he said.

“It landed at his house, and he had me at ‘hello,'” Smith said.

What Smith calls a squad, Lisa Skeete Tatum — founder and CEO of Landit, a career consulting platform — calls a “personal board of directors.” It’s an essential factor in having a fulfilling, successful career, Tatum told CNBC Make It last year.

“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for people who believed in me … who saw something in me and took a chance, who helped me see things I didn’t even know were possible,” she said.

There are five people who everyone should have on their personal dream team, said Tatum:

  • A mentor, who coaches and molds you into a better version of yourself
  • A sponsor, who can speak to your strengths and abilities when you aren’t around
  • A connector, who has an extensive network and will “pick up the phone” on your behalf
  • A point expert, who acts as your “personal search engine” and has all the answers
  • A close friend, who’s nonjudgmental and can be your shoulder to lean on

Some of these relationships, like a close friend or mentor, may form naturally. You can use online networking platforms like LinkedIn, or attend conferences and events related to your field, to help fill in the gaps, said Tatum.

“If you want to progress, you have to surround yourself with people that have higher expectations of you than you have of yourself,” she said. “Learn to codify your network and make sure everyone has a role.”

Smith seemingly agrees. “You cannot build a career … and you probably can’t do much of anything in this life at a high level without a rock-solid team,” he said.

Disclosure: Peacock and CNBC are owned by the same parent company, NBCUniversal.

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