As difficult as it is to attain success, it is not nearly as difficult as retaining it.
This week the NFL playoffs commence, leading to Super Bowl XLIX (that’s 49 for any bankers who may be reading this) in Phoenix, Ariz. on February 1. It’s anybody’s guess as to which team will prevail, but one thing is certain: reaching and winning the Super Bowl is undoubtedly the pinnacle of success for the 32 teams that comprise the NFL. It is a goal that the entire organization of every team works diligently to achieve.
But did you know that, of the previous 48 Super Bowls, only 18 different teams have been Super Bowl champions? That means that after almost 50 years of effort, only about half the teams have been able to achieve the ultimate NFL success.
What is even more significant is that, of the 48 previous winners, only seven teams have been able to repeat that success the following year. The numbers clearly show that it’s a seismic feat for any team to attain the ultimate success in the NFL—but repeating that success is almost as rare as back-to-back earthquakes in Wisconsin.
There are many reasons for this puzzling disparity: crucial changes in team personnel, targeting by other teams, tougher schedules, injuries to key players, and that dreaded hangover of success achieved. But the real reason winning the Super Bowl is so difficult to repeat is that once the ring is secured, most teams lose the passion, hunger, commitment and drive to do the things that were done to achieve the initial success.
Just ask the athlete who’s wearing a “super bowl”-type ring from whatever his chosen sport. When an athlete who has won multiple championships is asked which championship was the “sweetest,” they will invariably say that it was the first one, because they know how much work and sacrifice was put in to win it. When asked which championship was the “hardest” to achieve they will offer that it was the last one, because they know just how difficult it was to repeat success.
And it’s not just the high-profile NFL teams that can exhibit self-destructive tendencies once success has been achieved. Such attitudes can often afflict business leaders and companies, although not so visibly.
Many who work so hard to achieve success sometimes forget that it takes even more focus and commitment to maintain success. Despite a plethora of information and mountains of advice on how to achieve success and almost as much coaching on how to turn failure into success, there is virtually no help offered on what it takes to retain success. It’s almost like success is viewed as the end of the yellow brick road and once the magic destination is reached, you can forget all about what you did to get to the Super Bowl of business success and you can pack up and go home.
In fact, 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 be prepared to deal with the consequences of success.
Any organization or individual who achieves success must be willing to build on that success, not rest on it. Only by doing so does success have a chance to be continued over time. The reality is that success is simply an indication that you are on the right road. The key to maintaining success is being alert to losing it, because success has its own way of weakening the very behavior that spawned it.
What Goes 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 sinking. 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 fail to continue to do 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 identify if you or your company might be in danger of losing the success you worked so hard to achieve.
Our success and the success of our company may be in trouble when:
- 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 or will 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 on 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.