The Dangers of Success

by | Jun 24, 2020 | Leadership


I recently wrote about The Top 5 Temptations That Will Derail All Leaders (and organizations). One of the temptations I mentioned is success.

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.


Success Blinds

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.


Game Plan

  1. 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? 
  2. Choose one of the 3 ways to manage success and begin putting into practice so it becomes a habit.


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