Author William Saroyan once explained that we get very little wisdom from success. In his book Leadership Gold, author John Maxwell writes that “when it comes to success, it’s not the number of mistakes you make; it’s the number of times you make the same mistakes”. This sets up the paradox of success: what got you where you are may not get where you want to go. That is, you may have very well gotten to where you are in spite of some of your ways, not because of them. It is very often that leaders make the same mistakes every day, yet feel it is these very mistakes that got them to the current position, status, or income level that they enjoy. Marshal Goldsmith writes there are four key beliefs that help successful people become successful: I have succeeded, I can succeed, I will succeed, and I choose to succeed. Yet in spite of the very fact that these beliefs have made so many successful, they also make it very difficult for many to change and grow. Author and leadership expert Ken Blanchard writes, “the difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping old ones”. One of the keys to achieving future success is the ability to take a realistic look in the mirror and admit your own weaknesses to escape your old habits. Leaders must be able to do honest self assessments, admit short falls, and practice growth habits.
Successful people get up each and every day and have the confidence to go into life situations and tackle them head on and this is because they believe they have succeeded in the past. The confidence to compete surely doesn’t exist because these people run the highlight real of all past failures over and over again in their heads. Those of us that have found success in our work grow confident because we replay our accomplishments and this instills our confidence. Yet, this very belief can make it difficult for change to occur when it is needed. If we believe we already have the needed skills to succeed, why then would we need to change anything? Maybe a dose a of the blooper real from life is a good thing for everyone to experience ever so often. What about the belief that we can literally make things happen through sheer brain power, talent, or personality? Does that sound like you? When someone needs to make things happen, successful people believe they can get it done. They believe that they have the skills needed to succeed in any situation they are confident in, and it is this confidence that often propels them into great promotions, advances and opportunities. Every manager and leader needs some of these people under them. We may often refer to them as people who just “get things done”. Although this may be true, one of the greatest mistakes success people make is assuming that because they behave a certain way and they are successful, then they must be successful because of that behavior. For example, a very successful sales manager may have a terrible habit of not calling customers back right away. In fact, he may have even come to the belief that this behavior has helped make him successful. Maybe he feels that being hard to get in touch with makes it seem to his customers like he is very busy and important. He may view this as an attractive quality, thinking his customers want to work with someone who is important and in demand. Yet, he may not know that his customers only buy from him because he offers the best pricing, has the best design skills, and his company has the best technical support line in the industry. They buy from him in spite of the fact that he has bellow average customer skills. Change would be difficult for this sales manager, but needed if he where to move up in the company and become more effective.
A third belief of “I will succeed” and fourth belief of “I choose to succeed” are very similar in nature to the above outlined examples. It is the very nature of successful people to have a somewhat warped view of themselves. There is nothing wrong with any of these four beliefs alone. It is these very beliefs that help successful get where they are. They can also be blinders to needed change, and this is when they become an issue. So what can be done about this? The best course of action is regular reviews and mentor relationships. It is important for senior leaders to remember two things. First, don’t focus all of your training and efforts on increasing the performance of your bottom 30%. Remember to invest in your successful performers and help them become even more successful. Secondly, senior leaders need to order evaluations of themselves. If you are at or near the top, then hire a consulting company to come in do this assessment. We are all very poor at self assessment, but it is a much needed process. Encourage it for your people and seek it our for yourself. This will help you continue to refine, grow, and prosper in your career.
Blanchard, K. (2007). Leading at a higher level. Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.
Goldsmith, M. (2007). What got you here won’t get you there. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Maxwell, J. C. (2008). Leadership Gold. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.