A few days back, the following quote on success from Marcus Aurelius, one of the great stoic philosophers, showed up in my inbox. Comparing people to rocks he said “it loses nothing by coming down and gained nothing by going up.” Seemingly everything Aurelius said is a leadership gem, but this one stood out because we talk so much about leading teams to success, but we rarely talk about what to do when we get there.
Before we get too far into this, let’s make sure we’re talking about the same success. There are two types, at least in my mind. One being the results-type success; essentially achieving a set milestone and the other is what I call “real” success. This is the success that leaders are focused on: how much we put into our goal, how fiercely we pursued them, how strongly we built relationships, and how well we used the talents we were given.
In this case, though, we’ll be speaking of “results” success. It’s important to remember that this type of success doesn’t change who we are as leaders; nor should it. Yet, achieving milestones can present a surprising challenge to leaders. In many cases, they may not even realize how this success has impacted them until it’s too late.
As an example, think of athletes that have either won a major championship or retired. Very seldom do teams repeat as champions. When they retire, it doesn’t take too long for them to get out of shape and to let their fitness slip to shocking levels. Why is this? Results-oriented success will change people by quietly letting them get complacent. That’s why focusing our lives on this type of success can be a trap. It deceives you into dropping your guard. Just when you think you’re on top of the world, you’re actually the most vulnerable.
If we change when we achieve a certain result or milestone, what does it say about us? On one had, it sort of feels like we’re frauds. Think about it, we worked so hard and diligently at something only to get complacent. If we’re just going to abandon this way of work, then why were we working like that in the first place? What signal does it send to your team about the importance of what they’ve been doing. To that end, if something brought you to a point of success, why would you change it? It seems bizarrely obvious, yet this happens all the time.
Leaders don’t operate this way. Leaders approach this results-oriented success merely as another step in their mission. Sure, they can celebrate it with their team. But they’re not doing what they’re doing purely for this result; they’re doing it because it’s what they’re supposed to be doing. Leaders do not find satisfaction in some fleeting win, a number in a bank account, or a piece of paper on the wall. They find satisfaction in the diligent pursuit.
If anything, this results-oriented success needs to magnify who we are. It needs to put more pressure on us to be the best version of ourselves. It should place us under a microscope, and certainly not be a license to be lazy, complacent, arrogant, or downright stupid.
Remember, this results success isn’t going to bring you the kind of happiness you’re looking for. And if you’re not happy by the time you find this type of success, you’re not pursuing the right things anyway. It won’t magically appear. Take some time to think through what you really need to do and set some goals. That’s always the first step.