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

In the past few months 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 has 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 has not 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!

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