Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. – Bill Gates
Staying Hungry when you are achieving success is very hard as Bill Gates once quipped: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Successful people and teams always have to deal with this issue at some point in their life/career; the ability to still stay hungry when you are achieving success and not get content/complacent is a great skill needed to stay at the top.
Staying grounded in the midst of success and not getting carried away with the praise, awards, recognition and all the rewards of succeeding can be very tempting. We all want to be recognized for our initiative and success but it can get into our heads which invariably leads to complacency and laziness among other self-defeating behaviors
Never let success get to your head and never let failure get to your heart.
Darren Hardy, Author and Former publisher of SUCCESS Magazine, in his great book: The Compound Effect noted that:
“The truth is, complacency has impacted all great empires, including, but not limited to, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English. Why? Because nothing fails like success. Once-dominant empires have failed for this very reason. People get to a certain level of success and get too comfortable.”
People get to a certain level of success and get too comfortable.
Having experienced extended periods of prosperity, health, and wealth, we become complacent. We stop doing what we did to get us there. We become like the frog in the boiling water that doesn’t jump to his freedom because the warming is so incremental and insidious that he doesn’t notice he’s getting cooked! If we want to succeed, we need to recover our grandparents’ work ethic.
Successful teams always have to deal with the Success Disease because what brought them to the success would not take them to the next level. Bill Wash dealt with this issue when he was coaching the San Francisco 49ers Dynasty building era with Joe Montana and co. It is not a matter if, it is a matter of when, we are lose some and win some.
Bill Wash spoke about the Success Disease challenge in his very insightful book, The Score would take care of itself, he noted and pondered:
“How else can you explain that in the season immediately following that championship—Super Bowl XVI—and with virtually the same personnel, we lost twice as many games as we won in that strike-shortened season? The explanation is, in part, quite simple: Success Disease.“
“The World’s seventh-wealthiest person, Warren Buffett, says one of his biggest challenges is to help his top people—all wealthy beyond belief—stay interested enough to jump out of bed in the morning and work with all the enthusiasm they did when they were poor and just getting started.
Buffett is addressing that difficult situation of trying to motivate yourself or your team when you’ve become a winner. Success Disease—overconfidence is a major symptom—can happen in any profession and can be as difficult to remedy as underconfidence. Over- and underconfidence are an ongoing challenge in leadership.
“When you reach a large goal or finally get to the top, the distractions and new assumptions can be dizzying. First comes heightened confidence, followed quickly by overconfidence, arrogance, and a sense that “we’ve mastered it; we’ve figured it out; we’re golden.” But the gold can tarnish quickly. Mastery requires endless re-mastery.
Mastery requires endless remastery.
Success Disease makes people begin to forego to different degrees the effort, focus, discipline, teaching, teamwork, learning, and attention to detail that brought “mastery” and its progeny, success. The hunger is diminished, even removed in some people.
“Complacency” may be too strong a word to describe it, maybe not. Perhaps “contentment” describes it. You feel content after navigating up the hard and treacherous road to victory. This is understandable; you should feel satisfaction and contentment. But when it lingers—sets in—you and your team are suffering from Success Disease. It can create a lack of respect for the competition, a feeling of superiority, and an assumption that you can win at will, turn it on when it counts. The time to turn it on (and leave it on) is before it counts. In fact, my belief is that it counts all the time.”
Bill Wash shared some lessons learned after the 49ers’ experience with Success Disease following their first Super Bowl championship. He cautioned that the following strategies are very effective, although there is no guarantee that in following them you will fend off the fallout from achievement; specifically, Success Disease:
1. Formally celebrate and observe the momentous achievement—the victory—and make sure that everyone feels ownership in it. Praise, bonuses, and other rewards can make it special. This is a unique opportunity to strengthen the bond everyone feels to your organization, especially the special role players who get less attention.
2. Allow pats on the back for a limited time. Then formally return to business as usual by letting everyone know the party is over. Nevertheless, don’t tighten down too far. Victory can produce enormous energy—so powerful and overwhelming that in sports grown men will burst out in tears and run around like little children at Christmas. You must channel that powerful force and enthusiasm into the work ahead to solidify and build on the gains made by your team in achieving their recent success. Make sure the power of your victory propels you forward in a controlled manner.
3. Be apprehensive about applause. Instruct your team on the pitfalls of listening to accolades from those outside (and even inside) the organization. The praise can become a hindrance to buckling down to the hard sacrifice that will be required ahead. Ongoing applause can turn the head of the most disciplined and determined member of your team. Watch that it doesn’t turn your own head.
4. Develop a plan for your staff that gets them back into the mode of operation that produced success in the first place. Don’t assume it will happen. Hold meetings to explain what steps must be taken to sustain momentum; refocus personnel by covering in detail why success was achieved; review with them why they prevailed.
5. Address specific situations that need shoring up; focus on the mistakes that were made and things that were not up to snuff in the success. Point out deficiencies and the need to find remedies for them.
6. Be demanding. Do not relax. Hold everyone to even higher expectations. Don’t relax your Standard of Performance. The Standard of Performance is always in a state of refinement to raise performance. That’s your gold standard, the point of reference above everything else, including the won-lost record, Super Bowl titles, shareholder value, quotas, sales, or praise from people who don’t have to get down in the trenches with you and do the real work.
7. Don’t fall prey to overconfidence so that you feel you can or should make change for the sake of change. Change is inevitable, but change is not a casual consideration. When you’re flush with victory, you can take on a mind-set that says, “Hey, let’s try this!” Only in the most desperate situation is change made simply for the sake of change.
8. Use the time immediately following success as an opportunity to make hard decisions, including elevation or demotion of individuals who contributed—or didn’t—to the victory. This window is brief. Use it.
9. Never fall prey to the belief that getting to the top makes everything easy. In fact, what it makes easier is the job of motivating those who want your spot at the top. Achievement, great success puts a big bull’s-eye on your back. You are now the target—clearly identified—for all your competitors to aim at.
10. Recognize that mastery is a process, not a destination.
When your organization achieves a significant goal, you must demonstrate the strongest and most demanding adherence to your own established ideals and principles—the Standard of Performance you abide by. This is essential, because if you fall prey to the consequences of winning, you will soon be dealing with the consequences of losing.
All the best in your quest to better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.