Many of you are probably thinking, “Wait a minute, Shawn. I thought success is a good thing? Isn’t our goal to be successful?” You are right. Leaders and organizations who are not “successful” will eventually be replaced. But success will also be your greatest threat.
Let’s dive deeper into the paradox of success.
When you experience failure, the first thing mature leaders do is start evaluating what went wrong. What are the areas you need to improve in? What would you do differently next time? Failure creates the opportunity to learn and grow and can even serve as a catalyst for your goals.
However, when you experience success, most leaders don’t evaluate what went wrong. They celebrate the success (which is not a bad thing). The problem is that as more success comes, it can be easy to become blind to the cracks in your armor. Success can cover up weaknesses and blindspots. It can actually make you less self-aware.
And for organizations, research has found that as a company makes more money (aka they’re more successful), they begin to lose focus of their mission, values and culture. They forget why the business was really started. And we all know of companies that have watered down their mission for the sake of profits.
Success can blind both leaders and organizations from reality and what’s really going on internally.
Success Creates Pride
As a leader or organization becomes blind to their weaknesses, the natural result is an increase in pride. And pride is poison. Pride makes us become self-centered. Leadership and businesses are supposed to use their platform to serve others but success can flip that and delude them into thinking that others are meant to serve them.
How do we manage success so that it doesn’t become our downfall?
In a phrase, “stay hungry and humble.” Here are three ways to accomplish that:
#1: Redefine What Success Looks Like
Don’t mistake achievement with success. Achievement comes from accomplishing your goals. Success comes from living out your personal vision or purpose. I believe every leader needs to discover (or rediscover) their vision or purpose for why they are a leader or in business. If you lead an organization, you need to do the same thing. Take time to be inspired again. Being inspired keeps us “hungry.”
#2: Fight Entitlement
Pride is ugly. And successful people and companies can start to feel entitled. How do you know when you are becoming entitled? When you start saying, “I deserve this.” Success shouldn’t make you feel more entitled; it should make you feel more responsible and accountable to using your platform to serve others. How do you fight entitlement? With gratitude. It’s impossible to be prideful and thankful at the same time. Think about the people who have helped you or your organization accomplish your goals and become successful. Regularly thank them and show your appreciation publicly. Being thankful keeps us humble. I write more about the benefits of thankfulness here.
#3: Practice the 24 Hour Rule
When I played basketball in high school and college, we had a “24 hour rule.” If we lost, we only dwelled on the loss for 24 hours and then we got back in the gym to learn from it and improve. When we won, we celebrated for 24 hours and then picked apart the game to find our weaknesses. Celebration is important and so is refining your weaknesses in the midst of success.
Think about the last time you experienced success. Maybe it was a promotion or you accomplished a big project that received lots of praise. How did you respond? Did it make you feel entitled, grateful, or something in between? The best way to know if success has changed you is by asking the people closest to you. So ask around – how would others say you handled your latest success?
Choose one of the 3 ways to manage success and begin putting into practice so it becomes a habit.
All roles require some level of skill or certification. But for many positions, attitude is more important than skill set. Today, I’m sharing 5 practical tips for a successful interview.
Today’s game plan is very practical: update your resume. That’s it.
Professionals say you should update your resume once per year, as your responsibilities, projects, and titles change constantly. Even if you have a secure job, you never know when another opportunity will present itself. Having an up-to-date resume in the bullpen shows you are prepared.
PS: We’d love if you made plans to join us (and invite a friend) for Part 2 of our free Summer Webinar Series, “The New-Norm Job Candidate: 5 Ways to Stand Out From the Crowd.” Registration opens tomorrow! Check out this page for more information!
We have all heard stories of highly talented leaders (and celebrities) who never reached their potential because poor choices ended up derailing their career.
Many people aspire to be leaders because of the prestige, social status, or even pay raise. What they don’t realize is that leaders are held to higher standards. They are more accountable when things go wrong and if they are going to have sustained success, they must live a life that is above reproach.
Our leadership journey is a marathon; not a sprint. And if you are going to be a leader that finishes well you must stay away from these common temptations.
This is the number one temptation and is at the root of all the other temptations on this list. Pride is so deadly because it gives us the illusion of success like a mirage in the desert, while it is actually slowly eroding away our leadership potential.
Prideful leaders never reach their potential for a myriad of reasons:
They think they are smarter than others and never ask for help.
They don’t surround themselves with highly capable people because they have to be the smartest person in the room.
They end up plateauing as a leader because pride makes them apathetic when it comes to learning and development.
Effective leaders are confident but not arrogant. We must know the difference.
One of the ways pride manifests itself is through success. In fact, I am more fearful of success than failure. It’s hard to be proud in failure and failure is a great teacher. (I write more about the benefits of failure here.) On the other hand, success can be intoxicating. We can become addicted to it and spend so much in the pursuit of success that we neglect higher priority areas of life.
Now, there is nothing wrong with success in itself. And I think we all want to live “successful” lives. We should all strive to work with excellence and be as successful as possible.
But we must be careful because there is a dark side to success. It covers up weaknesses and allows blind spots to creep in. It can make us think we are better or more important than others.
It also leads to our next temptation.
Lack of Character
Success creates pressure and that pressure can cause people to make decisions that lack character. They try to find shortcuts or make excuses for failure. Unfortunately, no amount of success or charisma can make up for a lack of integrity.There are many areas where leaders can be tempted to have a lack of integrity: fudging numbers, lying or covering up our past mistakes, and immoral or improper relationships to name a few.
If leadership is like a house, then character is the foundation. A crack in it will slowly affect the whole house. Most of the time this crack starts small. A little decision of indiscretion. A small “white lie.” But over time it spreads like cancer, killing our leadership.
A lack of character can frequently be seen in regard to money. Whether a leader has a lot or a little, the way they manage their money reveals both their priorities and their character (or the lack thereof). Too many leaders, especially in the social sector, have been derailed because of their poor handling of both professional and personal finances.
Leaders should be transparent, especially with their finances. I’m not saying they should share their personal bank accounts with just anyone, but they do need to be above reproach in how they manage their money.
You never know when someone is going to want to ask for your tax returns. (wink, wink…)
Lack of Accountability
Accountability is like the rumble strips on the interstate. They keep us in bounds. We all have moments of weakness where we want to take the easy route or an immoral shortcut. Accountability keeps us from doing that.
An unfortunate story that shows the importance of accountability occurred with Marion Jones. Jones was one of the most dominant female Olympic track and field athletes in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Unfortunately, she cheated by taking PEDs and then lied to Congress, which meant prison time and the disqualification of some of her achievements (including Olympic medals.) When asked about what led her to start cheating she said that she stopped hanging out with people who would tell her like it is and started associating with people who would just pat her on the back.
Take this lesson to heart.We don’t need “yes” people in our life. We need people who will tell us like it is. Accountability is the answer to each one of these temptations. If you have accountability, I can almost guarantee your leadership will be guarded and protected. Accountability won’t stop you from making mistakes, but it will hopefully cause you to think twice about making the mistakes that derail a person’s leadership.
For most leaders, there are one or two areas from those listed above that will be their greatest temptation(s). Which of those areas is that for you?
Most great athletes and competitors will say they fear failure more than they enjoy winning.
I can relate. (Not with the “being a great athlete” part but with fearing failure.) I don’t want to fail and I can see how that fear influences so many decisions I make. However, over time, I am learning failure is not always bad. It can actually be very beneficial and if we manage it correctly, it can serve as a catalyst for accomplishing our goals.
I have failed many times in my life, but there is one season that would easily make my “Top 5” failures of all time. Let me explain.
In the fall of 2003, I had just transferred from LaTech University to Oklahoma Wesleyan University where I was offered a basketball scholarship. Here’s the crazy thing. The coach had never seen me play before. He was taking the word of their Dean of Students who I had played many pickup games with. (Remember, this is before smartphones and social media so the coach really couldn’t get “film” on me very easily and plus it’s not D1 ball, so, for whatever reason, he decided to offer me a partial athletic scholarship.)
As you can imagine, I came in with a lot of pressure to prove myself and perform well. Unfortunately, I never reached my basketball potential. I let insecurity and the pressure get to me. Even as I write about this, I am reminded of so many practices and games where I left frustrated and in tears because I just couldn’t put it altogether.
But if you think I regret anything from those two years of playing (or riding the bench) you would be wrong. Sure, I wish I could’ve performed better and helped my team in a greater capacity. That’s the competitor in me. But as the years have gone by and I have more life experience, I have become so thankful for that season of “failure.” You see, I learned so much about myself during that time and probably developed more maturity than I would’ve if I had been more “successful.”
If I hadn’t gone through that season, I don’t think I would be where I am today and would certainly not have been prepared to make the most of the opportunities that have come my way since then.
Have you experienced the blessing of failure? Here’s why failure can be so beneficial if we manage it right…
Success covers up weaknesses and over time blind spots can creep in. But failure exposes them. Failure is a great teacher if we are willing to listen. If we choose to lean in to failure, persevere through it and learn the lessons it is trying to teach us, we will grow in maturity and be more prepared for the opportunities that await us in the future.
As we process through failure and usually go back to the proverbial “drawing board” to find out what went wrong and how we can improve, one of the opportunities we have is to reflect upon our motives and priorities.
Success is intoxicating. And the more success you have, the easier it is to spend more time in that area. Usually this occurs professionally and we pour our time and energy into our jobs. Unfortunately, our family and friends can get our leftovers.
However, failure tends to recenter us. It reveals to us the areas that we have been neglecting- whether that is family, friends, health, or rest. Now we can choose to reorient our priorities and get back into a healthier rhythm.
At times failure can be a better predictor of success than achievement. Here’s what I mean. Some people set really low goals and have minimal expectations for themselves. Just because you accomplish those goals, doesn’t mean you are successful. What about the person who dreams big and has the courage to accomplish audacious goals, but only gets 75% there? Who was more successful? I would argue the latter.
As the saying goes, “If you are not failing, you are not trying.” The key is to fail well. Fail at taking calculated risks. And learn from those failures. Remember, “shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”
As I wrap up these thoughts on failure, I want to be clear: I don’t enjoy failure. Failure is hard and my goal is to “win” and accomplish my goals. But when failure happens (and it will for all of us) we manage it by taking the time to reflect upon it and learn from it. We remind ourselves it’s not permanent and persevere through it. We stop dwelling on our past mistakes and move forward.
Think about the last time you had a “big” failure. Take some time to reflect upon that experience. What did you learn from it and how has that experience prepared you for the future?
In 1954, Billy Graham was conducting his first crusade in London, which received a lot of criticism. (It would be noted later that Graham received criticism almost everywhere he went.)
He recounts in his autobiography Just As I Am, “A columnist for the Daily Mirror (London), Bill Connor, under the name Cassandra, wrote a devastatingly clever article against me; it appeared the day we arrived in Britain. I wrote him a note telling him that while I didn’t agree with him, his column had been very well done. He wrote back that he would like to meet me.”
After their meeting, “Cassandra” wrote another column about his interaction with Graham. Connor still made a few verbal jabs at Graham’s expense but he also painted him in a much more favorable light.
“All leaders get criticized. It’s their response to criticism that sets them apart,” write Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley. If you try to accomplish something that adds value or makes a difference, you will be criticized. One of the areas that separates great leaders from the good leaders is how they respond to and manage criticism.
When it comes to criticism, the first question we must ask ourselves is, “Is this criticism constructive or destructive?” If it is constructive, we embrace it and engage with the critic. If it is destructive, we dismiss it.
If the criticism seems to have even a hint of truth or if it is constructive, we should embrace it and, if possible, engage with the critic. This calls for radical open-mindedness and extreme humility. An attitude that is constantly seeking to learn and grow.
When reaching out to a critic, we should respond in kindness, even complimenting where appropriate, just like Billy Graham did. The goal is to learn. As author and leadership mentor Fred Smith says, “Turn your critics into coaches.”
Find the Kernel of Truth
When listening and processing criticism we need to find the “kernel of truth.” Dawson Trotman said, “There is a kernel of truth in every criticism. Look for it, and when you find it, rejoice in its value.”
Even if the critic is 99% wrong, there may be 1% of truth that provides valuable insight. There’s a saying that goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know and what you don’t know can kill you.” We all have blind spots; criticism is a way to perhaps bring those blind spots into view.
Don’t Dwell on Criticism
We don’t need to engage with all criticism. Some critics are off base and we need to dismiss it. Fred Smith also says, “Sometimes if a racehorse pays too much attention to horsefly, it makes the fly too important. Some people’s only taste of success is the bite they take out of someone whom they perceive is doing more than they are.”
Most of the time criticism comes from people who are dissatisfied with their own life. Instead of taking responsibility and ownership for their current situation, instead they attack other people. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.”
This is probably the toughest step when dealing with criticism. It’s hard to just simply dismiss criticism and not think about it. But a way to help with this process is by taking captive our thoughts and self-talk and comparing them to the truth. Is this criticism actual reality or distorted truth? It’s also good to have an inner circle of friends to process criticism with. People who will tell it like it is.
Give Equal Weight to Compliments
Jon Acuff talks about “hater math.” One “hater” is greater than 100 compliments. We remember the one time someone criticized us and forget about the hundred times someone said something genuinely complimentary of us.
I think it’s very beneficial to keep a praise journal. What are the accomplishments that have happened in your life? What are the genuine praises that you and your work have received? Yes, we need to be careful that we don’t become arrogant over our achievements. But this journal can be a source of encouragement in those seasons when we feel like we can do nothing right and the critics let us know it.
Take time to celebrate and remember your successes.
Think back to the last time you received criticism. How did you respond and manage it? Write down both the positive and negative ways you reacted.