[July 20, 2020] Nearly every article I write in my leadership blog, I used the word “success.” Yet, I never define it, nor do I spend any effort to explain what I mean. If you are like me, we assume the other person implicitly understands and agrees with our criteria for success. Most of us, those who live and work in our communities, have a shared system of similar core values. Thus, when we talk about success, we can be confident that others agree with what we say.
The problem, however, is that this agreement is often not the case. Talking about success can be tricky and full of surprises when others don’t have the same priorities or values. For example, my idea of success in life means having a large family, regular access to visit them, and getting along well with each. I’ve discovered that many do not want a family, and some younger people think that a family is too restrictive and full of responsibilities they do not wish to.
Success means purposefully achieving something desirable. Thus, there must first be a goal or an aim. And second, there must also be a plan or pathway to attain that goal. If we do not have a goal or if the purpose is vaguely defined, that person is avoiding life and will not be satisfied with anything of value. This is why, in this article, we cannot write the definition of success. We can discuss the idea of success, nevertheless, and put markers on what might be considered successful.
Leaders, with a mission (a goal or aim), should ensure there are criteria for what it takes to be successful. As a salesperson, achieving a specific amount of sales as measured in money would be an appropriate measure of success. But, would making the boss happy be a measure of success for the salesperson? It could be. I will argue that it should be a measure. I base my judgment on what the criteria for success upon what others have done and what those above me in the meritocracy value most.
And, let’s not confuse an “accomplishment” with the concept of success. An accomplishment refers to an outcome from a plan. “Success” is a positive consequence or outcome of a series of achieved accomplishments. This is not splitting of hairs. Thus, they are closely related. Success is imbued with the value of the result and over a specified time.
In summary, success means 1) clearly setting goals, 2) defining a specific way to reach those goals, and 3) the consequence of achieving them. This is hard. When we set goals and ways to accomplish them, we will inevitably experience failure, and we don’t like failure. Many of us will stop setting goals and simply drift through our lives, living in blissful ignorance. Sadly, this is encouraged all too well.