Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 9, Issue No. 10
By Dan Coughlin
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Sustaining success is THE great challenge of our generation.
Every generation has taken on some great cause and left its mark on history. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s our ancestors took on the challenge of the Great Depression and World War II and guided us through an extraordinary advance in education. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s wise and courageous people took on the issues of civil rights and have generated extraordinary progress in creating greater opportunities for more people just in my lifetime alone. Over the past thirty years a technological revolution has allowed people around the globe to communicate with each other in real time and advanced our lives in countless ways. During that same time advances in medicine have significantly increased the average life span and the quality of life for millions of people.
However, throughout the centuries we still have not figured out how to sustain our successes and build on them. We operate as though age-old myths dictate our decisions. We’ve been told forever that for every up there must be a down and that success is cyclical and beyond our control. We seem to think that improving our performance and results in a sustainable way is a foolish, idealistic notion.
But why have we given in so easily? Why can’t we make the central focus of this generation the search for ways to build on past successes and increase momentum toward our desired outcomes? This is just as important for individual and small group success as it is for organizations and for society as a whole.
I’m writing this article in the closing days of 2010. Why can’t we set a goal to continually improve our results and maintain positive momentum through the end of 2020? Why can’t we let go of the idea that we have to fall backward in order to climb higher? Why can’t we steadily move up the mountain in our personal and our professional lives and with the groups we work with?
For now I want to concentrate on the idea that you have resources for sustaining success that you can turn to over and over again. In doing so, you can successfully build on your earlier achievements and continually improve your performance and results.
Your Resources for Sustaining Success
Resource #1: Your Terms
Take out a sheet of paper and write down your definition of success. What does achieving success mean to you? For example, my definition of success is bringing a vision into reality. Since I get to choose the vision I want to bring into reality this allows me to not get caught up in what other people consider to be success. Or if I am working with another person to clarify the desired vision then I have chosen to co-create that vision with this individual or group of people. However, we are creating the desired vision and not allowing other people to impose their standards on us.
In general what does success mean to you? What is your definition?
Then I encourage you to think about the different areas of your life both on an individual basis and in terms of the organizations you are a part of. Write down specifically what you consider success to be for each of the different aspects of your life.
Resource #2: Your Time
You get 24 hours to do what you want with. If you let other people dictate how your time is used up, that’s up to you. Just know that time is one of your resources for continually improving your results. The way you use it will determine to a large degree whether or not you sustain your earlier performances and go beyond them.
Resource #3: Your Choices
Sustaining success is just as much about avoiding the stupid, debilitating decisions as it is about proactively selecting the moves that generate better results. If you look at the wild economic swings the world has experienced over the past 20 years, you can see where poor decisions led many people to a financial breakdown whether it be in the housing market or the dot-com bubble mania or some other area.
Here’s a suggestion. Before moving into action or making a purchase or investing in an idea, ask yourself, ‘Will this decision bring only a short-term gain or will it increase my chances for sustaining my current success and building on it?’ There are no crystal balls, but pausing to reflect on this question may help you avoid stumbling backward.
Resource #4: Your Integrity
A subset of your overall choices directly involve your integrity. As I look back on the first decade of this century it seems to me that most collapses for enormously successful people can be traced to financial fraud or cheating on a spouse. I suggest you could go back several decades and find the same pattern. In other words, successful people interrupted their ability to sustain their results by choosing to cheat. Perhaps they lost sight of what they wanted in the first place or decided they wanted shortcuts to increase their ‘success.’ Whatever the reason, letting go of your integrity greatly diminishes the chances for sustained success.
In maintaining your integrity, you can start each day with a clear conscience. That alone can help you to sustain success over the long term. When you lose your integrity, you’re done, and eventually your results will prove it.
Before moving into action, ask yourself, ‘Do I believe this is the right thing for me to do?’ For your organization, ask yourself and others, ‘Do we believe this is the right thing for us to do?’ Pausing in order to maintain integrity can have an enormous upside over the long term.
Resource #5: Your Capacity to Earn Your Results
If you blame others or something outside of yourself for your results, it may feel good in the short term, but it might keep you from taking hold of your results for the long term. On the other hand, if you ride some short-term advantage such as being in a hot industry to great results today, you may find that the advantage is not sustainable.
I encourage you to always take responsibility for your results regardless if they are good or bad. In doing so you can see what adjustments you need to make in order to steadily improve results.
Ayn Rand in her two classic books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, coined a phrase called ‘second-Hand People’. These are the people who gain results off of the efforts of other people. Throughout these books she highlighted the importance of preserving the right to earn your own results. She emphasized not giving away the responsibility for your results to some group outside of you. When you do that you give up your ability to guide your results over the long term, and then you lose your ability to achieve sustainable success.
No matter how tough times get don’t relinquish your capacity to earn your results.
Resource #6: Your Purpose
In studying very successful individuals and organizations for twenty-five years, one common denominator I have found is that they all had a clear purpose that they held on to for an extended period of time. These individuals and organizations knew why they were doing what they were doing.
Without a clear and compelling purpose for doing what you are doing in any aspect of your life it is unlikely that you will maintain the energy necessary to continually improve your results.
The fundamental question you need to answer is, ‘Why am I doing what I am doing? What is the purpose behind my activity?’ If you can’t find a compelling reason for doing what you are doing, you need to move on to an area that fits much better with your purpose.
Resource #7: Your Strengths and Passions
I’m convinced that you can take away all of the trappings of success from a great performer, and he or she will generate as great or greater success in the future as long as you leave the person his or her strengths and passions. However, if you take away the person’s strengths and passions while leaving the trappings of success in place, the person will soon lose all of the indicators of success.
Your strengths and your passions are a big part of your engine for generating sustainable success. Be sure to be highly aware of what you are good at doing and what you are passionate about. Then spend as much of your time and your energy as you can using your strengths and your passions to fulfill your purpose and drive better results. You might want to read that last sentence again. It’s the simple formula that great performers have used for centuries to continually achieve higher levels of performance.
Resource #8: Your Past Experiences
Rather than looking at success as an isolated event, think of it as one step in an overall journey of successes and failures. If you can look back at the important events in your life and extract valuable lessons, you can add those to your repertoire for improving your decisions going forward. Consequently, every past event, success or failure, becomes a valuable resource for you to increase your sustainable successes going forward.
Don’t think of achieving sustainable success as some outlandish, pie-in-the-sky wish. Instead of think of it as a process that has to be carefully watched over and executed with discipline. As you do that, you will steadily get better and better at achieving a result and then finding ways to equal or improve that result in the future. In time you will be able to increase the momentum of achieving your desired outcomes without falling backward. With each move you make think about the present and the future implications.