Success in business is . . .

success_isWe dream about it. We fight for it. We put everything on the line for it. But what exactly is this thing called “success”? Success is often referred to as a destination, but if that is correct, how does one know if he or she has arrived? There aren’t any quantitative measurements that define success. There isn’t a GPS destination called success. And if success is so amazing, why are there people happy as could be that are barely getting by, while others have all the trappings of success and are miserable?

Business success is the ultimate enigma simply because you never know if it has truly been achieved. If you believe you have achieved success, there is always uncertainty as to its sustainability. A few miscalculations, distractions or bad decisions and your “success” can disappear in a heartbeat.

But yet, we want it, which begs the question: if business success is so abstract and fleeting, why do we pursue it with such passion and tenacity? We pursue it because succeeding in business is about pursuing your full potential. Wealth, money and profit are merely the indicators and rewards of success. Leading a company to success is a test of character. It is a test of your ability to master business disciplines, exercise good judgment and take calculated risks. It is a test of your ability to surround yourself with the right talent, build a dynamic culture and lead it all to an extraordinary destination that is your vision.

Here are my no-compromise leadership perspectives on success:

  • It’s your success: You will never understand the true meaning of success if you’re trying to be someone else’s version of success. Success is something innately personal. It’s an insatiable internal craving to achieve your full potential…not someone else’s. Yes, you may need encouragement along the way, but the internal drive to achieve success is yours and yours alone.
  • Capacity to overcome: Achieving success in business is a long-distance marathon. There will be setbacks, cash-flow crises, betrayals, dumb decisions and nasty things the universe will throw at you. Inevitably, you will get knocked to the ground and feel beaten more than once. But you must continue on, always getting up and pressing onward. You must and will learn from your mistakes, as they will make you wiser.
  • Capacity to share: Business success isn’t about using people to get what you want. That’s a dictatorship where people perform out of fear. Business success is about people, fairness and integrity. It’s about leading a company by serving those you lead. Simply put, it’s about sharing success – not owning it. People will fight for what they believe in…and that means people deserve a stake in the outcome. Hitting a goal is a collective “WooHoo.” Getting a win is a collective “WooHoo.” Achieving gains in critical numbers and hitting a goal must be a celebration for all…triggering a team bonus.
  • Capacity to find balance: One of the most difficult aspects of business success is finding balance between business and personal. If it’s all business all the time, personal and family will be compromised. Likewise, if you devote too much time to personal and family, your business will be neglected and compromised. Companies do not run on autopilot. Even with a highly competent leadership team, a company needs its leader. Finding balance demands that you establish your own definition and criteria of success. When writing Steve Jobs’ biography, author Walter Isaacson asked Jobs why he was so willing to allow him unprecedented access and editorial freedom in the book. Jobs responded, “I want my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them, and wanted them to know why and understand what I did.”
  • Capacity for risk: You cannot succeed in business without taking risks. In many ways, business success is about you betting on your ability to take the right risks. If you have a low capacity for risk taking, you must adjust your definition of success accordingly. You cannot achieve extraordinary success by taking ordinary risks. And when taking risks are far and few between, leaders and companies become complacent and lethargic. Business success is about taking incremental risks, and every now and then…taking a big, hairy, audacious risk.
  • Capacity to transition: Business success means the ability for a business to adapt and grow to market conditions and to seize opportunities. It also means that leaders must adapt and grow in concert with the companies they lead. For example, leading a company that is two or three times the size of your present company requires new and more refined leadership thinking and behavior. It also requires the leader to let go of certain tasks and responsibilities in order to take on new ones. That’s how a company endures long term. The very worst things a leader can do are not evolving and maturing as a leader. That’s when the company gets stuck on the leader’s timeline and slows down as the leader ages. Companies have a life span that far exceeds that of its leader.

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Comments

  1. Bravo! A holistic perspective on why we do what we do, in the context of who we are and what we choose for our life purpose. I wish we framed all advice with just a hint of “how does this support or hinder my personal idealogy of success.”

    If you have not read the book “Adrift” about one man’s survival on a small lifeboat in the Atlantic, read it this summer. Imagine floating in a piece of rubber on a vast ever-changing sea, with no one but you and your accumulated life experience and instincts to support you. You have lost most everything you relied on in the past, except you, and even you has finally become untethered by the ever-changing seas. You are battered about from all directions, from above by the beating sun or squall, from all sides by the chop and waves, and from below by the creatures lurking in the depths ready to consume you at the slightest failing. Sound like just another day at the salon, right?

    Indeed, many owners are in constant survival mode and don’t even realize, as they are so used to it. But that mode hinders gaining the very perspective that Neil refers to: giving yourself the breathing room to not just get your balance, but to claim it. Once you are breathing again and oxygen is flowing better to your brain, you can engage your whole person in the assessment of your personal definition of success. Once that is done in your mind, you can choose to commit to it, live it and guide others to it so that it becomes a shared commitment and you don’t have to go it alone. This is risky, some may choose to find a new leader, many will long for the old leader and the status quo, but some, and hopefully enough, will stay the course and even support you as you evolve the business and the business of you. As the operation takes on a life of its own and you grow apart, you will be satisfied with your contribution to that life and in exchange it will have helped you fulfill your purpose of a life well-lived.

    I ask myself: Can I afford to take the summer off after 13 years of being flung all over the place with my business, to where I can hardly get my bearings anymore? I cannot afford not to is the only answer that speaks to me. So, while I don’t know whether my action will trigger confusion, annoyance, loss or gain of respect, or whether the business will generate sufficient financial resources to support this sabbatical, I do know that I need to take a breather, regain my balance, re-calibrate my personal definition of success, set a new course, and then implement whatever that is–everything is on the table.

    This is going to be a trans-formative time. Neil’s words today help to confirm that what is best for me is not just best for my business, it is the cornerstone that connects who I am with the business that I manifest. Today I am grateful for Neil’s words.

    • Thank you Julie.
      Taking sabbatical is a bold move. I know because I did once. I just needed time to think, ponder and dream. It is essential that your team has absolute clarity on why and what you’re doing … and their responsibilities and your expectations while you’re gone. This is a time for team members to step and grow too. Help them understand that.

      Neil

  2. Bob Steele says:

    Dear Neil,
    Well said. The world tends to judge success only by looking at the money. Nothing beats the joy of watching young people grow and become successful with the opportunities you setup in your company. There is a balancing point each person has to establish and keep for themselves. You can’t do it all or earn it all, but you can do it better tomorrow than you did it today.
    Bob Steele