The Greatest Threat to Personal and Business Success—is Success

Successful Leaders Fail When They Stop Doing the Things that Made Them Successful in the First Place

Some months back, the media has besieged us with countless stories about the imperfect personal lives of two of the best known sports stars in the country – Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Aside from the titillating (no pun intended) aspect of their personal failures, they have something else in common. Once they achieved success, they moved away from their core values.

Tiger Woods admitted publicly that when reached the status and success he had worked so hard to attain, that he fell into an attitude of perverted entitlement that moved him away from the values that had helped him become successful. While Roethlisberger didn’t publicly admitted to his problems, many of his current and former teammates in Pittsburgh have talked of how he changed after winning his first Super Bowl.

Roethlisberger’s teammates point to a young rookie who came to the Steelers fully dedicated to doing what needed to be done to achieve success. He was first to practice and last to leave. He exhibited the qualities of a leader and quickly became one, while still being “one of the guys” for his teammates. But they also point out that he began to change once he became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Soon he was last to practice and first to leave. He became aloof from the team and instead of being one of the guys, thought he was the only one. He acted as though he was entitled to be treated differently from the rest of the team. According to comments by teammates he began to be derisively referred to as a “bar-hopping pied piper.”

I have written on the subject of maintaining success – once it has been achieved – but the latest examples of Woods and Roethlisberger justify a refresher. Those of us who seek success in life or career can learn from these examples.

It is not just the high-profile celebrity that can exhibit self-destructive tendencies once success has been achieved; while not so visible, such attitudes can – and often do – afflict business leaders and companies. We work so hard to achieve success that we sometimes forget that it takes even more focus and commitment to maintain success achieved.

The key to maintaining success is being alert to losing success. Success has its own way of weakening the very behavior that achieved it. Any organization or anyone who achieves success must be willing to ignore the success achieved. Only by doing so is success maintained over time.

It’s a fact that more people rise from failure than survive success. That’s because it is more difficult to survive success than failure. Success is a rare commodity that few are prepared to deal with. When you are successful, you step out from the crowd and accomplish what many talk about but few do. That is well and good, but when you do succeed – you have to deal with the consequences of success. This is where both Woods and Roethlisberger failed and where those of us who are lucky to achieve success must be always vigilant.

What Went Wrong?

Why is it that so many business leaders and successful companies manage to fail the test of long-term success so consistently? Some say changed markets are to blame. Others point to increased competition, technology advances, reduced productivity, product obsolescence, even government interference as the source of the corporate tailspin. But, these are superficial excuses that highlight only the symptoms of the real illness.

After eliminating the suicidal acts of greed, blatant fraud and inbred incompetence from the list of culprits, there is a simple explanation for the failure of successful individuals and companies. Successful leaders and companies start to fail when they stop doing the things that made them successful in the first place.

Successful businesses and the executives who run them become comfortable, lazy, complacent and less tolerant of risk and innovation. Many fall prey to the illness of entitlement. They lose the very culture that produced their initial success: Doing the right thing at the right time, and doing it first, fast and often.

Fortunately, there are some simple and obvious clues that will help us identify if we and our company may be in danger of risking loss of the success we worked so hard to achieve.

Some of these signs may be when:

  • We find we are too busy to take the time to do the little things we took the time to do in the past.
  • We begin to define our success predicated on what we have done rather than what we could do.
  • We begin to feel that getting better is not as important as keeping what we have.
  • We discover our actions formerly threatened competitors but now the actions of competitors threaten us.
  • We become more concerned with what we get for ourselves than what we can give to others.
  • We begin to view process and procedure as more important than performance and progress.

And the Moral of the Story …

Never lose sight of this one thought – If you are not making history – you are history!

Those who maintain a pattern of continued success have a common trait – they see success as something to build on – not rest on. For them success becomes a nagging voice in the back of their mind that reminds them of how difficult it was to achieve and how much will be lost unless they continue to do the things that allowed them to come out one top, again and again.

They have a mind-set to continue to make history. They recognize the responsibility they have to build on the success achieved. They know their methods have allowed them to make history in the past and that gives them the opportunity to make history in the future.

If, as you achieve success, you adopt this philosophy, then you will accomplish what many who have achieved success fail to do. You will create the opportunity to maintain and even grow your success by never forgetting to do what you did to achieve success. Hopefully, Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger will be able to learn from taking success for granted and be more successful because of it, but one thing is certain – we can!

Why is it so Difficult to ask “WHY?”

Curiosity is Fast Becoming a Lost American Trait

The nature of a human is to be curious. No living being exhibits more curiosity than a young child. The most often used word in the vocabulary of the young is “why.” Without curiosity there is no way to learn and no way to make things better. America is in trouble today because we have lost our love of curiosity. A society that succeeded based on the celebration of curiosity seems to have become impatient with it and is structured to smother this crucial desire to know and learn.

It starts early. The most often heard answer to a child’s desire to know why something is, is “because.” In school, attention is given to those who have “problems,” but the one who exhibits curiosity is considered a problem. The structure of schooling is “rote and repeat” not “question and challenge.”

Once out of school and into the job market the effort to suppress curiosity is accelerated. There are rules and regulations for all activities. Those who have the temerity to ask “why” are told, “Because that’s the way we have always done it.” The attitude is that lumps are much more easily managed than bumps. The way to get by (even to advance) is to show compliance and complicity with “the way it is.

Those who question and challenge – and become bumps in the road – are viewed as a threat to the status quo and maintaining the status quo is the ultimate objective. The greatest detriment to getting better is the belief that what is, is already the best. Change is feared more than innovation is valued and since curiosity stimulates change, it must be eradicated. Too often the curious worker is told, “Don’t rock the boat.” Sameness is celebrated, while different is despised.

It has not always been this way. America was built on the benefits of curiosity. We always wondered, “What was over the next hill?” America came about because of our desire to escape the “old world” and create a “new world.” With this attitude – in a time shorter than any country – America grew to become a world leader.

The bitter truth is that America no longer leads the way with new ideas, innovation and creativity. America no longer makes the best, we simply buy the best. This transposition of American leadership in all areas – political, economic and cultural – is a direct result of an American society that no longer views curiosity as a virtue.

And look what we’re missing. According to the experts at the website Stepcase Lifehack:

Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive. And since the mind is like a muscle it becomes stronger through continual exercise, but atrophies with disuse.

Curiosity makes your mind open and observant of new ideas. When you are curious about something, your mind is like a signal-seeking missile that expects, anticipates, and welcomes new ideas related to it. That’s how good ideas grow and blossom.

Curiosity produces excitement into the lives of the curious, as well as those who associate with them.

Best of all, curiosity opens new worlds of possibilities for everyone. Newer, faster, stronger, smarter, cheaper, and more efficiently are just of few of the keywords in the lexicon of the curious. All they all, of course, lead to creating even more new ideas.

And the Moral of the Story . . .

We bemoan our problems and challenges, but are increasingly deaf to the value of curiosity. Sure, curiosity can be troublesome – even a pain – because it demands validation of what is being done or forces a change to do things better. But only by being curious can we determine what needs to be done to be better.

And this starts with all of us. If we allow others to suppress our natural curiosity, we are as much at fault as they. Our success as individuals – and ultimately our society – will be determined by our ability to question and challenge what is and seek what may be. It may not be easy, but it is ultimately the best way to achieve leadership and personal success.

As Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning . . . Never lose a holy curiosity.” America will move forward again once we understand the value of asking “why?” Tomorrow, start asking that question more often yourself. You’ll be amazed at what this subtle shift of thinking can produce.

Live in the Past and be Lost in the Future

How Bureaucracy Sabotages Corporate Success and What You Can do to Avoid It

The most deleterious inhibitor of consistent achievement by an organization is an entrenched bureaucratic culture. Like a creeping malaise that builds and strengthens over time, bureaucratic management, with its insincere, insecure, incompetent and incoherent actions, creates an unhealthy and unhappy work environment that consistently destroys corporate value and disrespects the worth of the individual.

It is unfortunate – but true – that bureaucracy starts small but once it has tainted the culture of an organization, it begins to erode and decline into the depths of failure.  There is little likelihood it will stop until the very soul and success of the company has been destroyed.

The ruinous results permeate every fabric of the business. Bureaucracy suffocates innovation, challenge and change, but perhaps surprisingly, that is its purpose. Whereas the entrepreneurial culture is designed to seek out and challenge the future, the bureaucracy is meant to preserve and protect the past. And, it does so with a malignant vengeance.

In the Beginning . . .

When a company has achieved success, it is natural to want to preserve that success. But the problem is that success, like fame, can be fleeting. The fallacy of bureaucracy is its belief that the environment in which success was achieved can be bottled and frozen in time. But, of course, that is not the case. Success is maintained by responding to constantly shifting conditions and facing new challenges. That’s where bureaucracy loses it way. Its objective is to maintain the status quo, a feat akin to stopping the march of time.

For a young organization, the desire to achieve success is so all encompassing that when it is achieved, the desire to protect it is difficult to resist and this may unwittingly plant the seeds of bureaucracy. Once they are sown, they grow like a smothering buckthorn, producing results that are the opposite of what was intended. Protecting the past imperils the future.

The ability to maintain the success of an organization is more challenging than achieving success in the first place, but it is possible. To do so, the leaders of an organization must take a different approach to the future. To do this the leaders must re-define the definition of “success.” The mentality of the leaders must be that the real objective of the organization is constant and consistent achievement. Success should not be viewed as the objective, but simply the score card for what has been achieved.

Focusing on constant achievement forces the organization to be responsive to change and, in fact, seek it out. There is no room for bureaucracy in such an organization because it is designed to preserve what has been already been achieved, not support new milestones yet to be accomplished. Seeking constant and consistent achievement recognizes that if you are not making history, you are history.

The Entrepreneurial Culture is Everything

It has always been my belief that the success of an organization is ultimately determined by the type of culture and environment in which employees work. Companies that remain vibrant over time create a culture that stimulates, recognizes and rewards employee effort and permeates the entire organization. But here’s the sticky wicket: the culture of an organization is itself, defined and determined by the beliefs and actions of executives at the top of the organization. Success is from the bottom up, but culture is established from the top down.

If the objective of management is to preserve success achieved, this often means an environment that is negative and resistant to any change. Employees working in such an organization often become downtrodden and unmotivated.

As Daniel Boorstin wrote in his book The Discoverers (Random House, 1983) “The great obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.” Bureaucratic managers who create and preside over a negative corporate culture fail to discover the value of a positive entrepreneurial culture, because of the illusion that what they are doing is the way it should be done.

Examine any company with a negative corporate culture and you will find a bureaucratic management style based on systems and procedures, not performance and progress. The difference between a healthy work environment and a bureaucratic one comes down to the “mindset” of those charged with managing the company. The bureaucratic manager has a “fixed mindset,” believing there is only one way to achieve results. Their aim is to make any alternative or creative thinking as unrequited as an Orwellian “thought crime.”

Bureaucratic managers feel safe and secure with system and procedure. They believe it is easier to preserve success by following a rigid system or set procedure than it is to deal with the vicissitudes of seeking performance and progress. They may be right, but history shows that a fixed mindset in business as to the way things are and should be is a sure path to decline and failure. It was Leon Tolstoy who said (1856), “The people who bind themselves to systems are those who are unable to encompass the whole truth and try to catch it by the tail; a system is like the tail of truth, but truth is like a lizard; it leaves its tail in your fingers and runs away knowing full well that it will grow a new one in a twinkling.”

And the Moral of the Story …

When the success of an organization is defined by what has been accomplished, instead of what can be accomplished, the door is open for bureaucracy to take hold. The only way to defend against bureaucracy and its crippling impact on the performance of an organization is to re-define success.

Success should not be viewed as a place in time or a fixed target, that once achieved is to be defended to the death. Success should be defined as a constant and consistent effort to achieve. Success must be something to build on, not rest on. If such is the attitude and approach of leaders then a culture of achievement will be built and maintained. Bureaucracy will be banished and ultimate and lasting success achieved.