Perhaps, for many leaders and managers, if handling failure is a challenge, trust that for most, it is even more difficult to handle and maintain, success and recognition.
In this piece, I will cover the subject with a two dimensional focus; in the first paragraphs, it will be about opportunity being made available to a person or a team to perform, and who upon attainment of success, are also quick to squander the achievements. The later paragraphs will relate to how success can be maintained.
At our respective workplaces, we hear colleagues talk in the corridors, as well as in the board rooms, in a protesting and complaining tone, O’, success has got to his/ her head. Essentially implying the presence of a noticeable change in behaviour and attitude of someone, who has been recognised for successful accomplishment of tasks, goals or objectives.
Since success is loaded with propensity to intoxicate the performer, the behaviour sometimes of a few can go completely wayward. Managers, departments, divisions and units, when they are successful in comparison to others, put an auto demand on the system, with impunity, to concede for concessions for inconsistent behaviour; alternatively such expect waivers to the conditions and principles of office code of conduct. Often, the performers feel that they are entitled not to respect office timings. They could come late. They can have extended lunch hours, etc.
Success to the uninitiated will impel his/her conduct to be in continuous discord to the rules and regulations of the organisation. Success breeds arrogant behaviour. Somerset Maugham disagrees, that success can lead to the oddity of abrasive and arrogant behaviour. He says, in Summing Up, “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egoistic and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant and kind. Failure makes people, bitter and cruel.” This he wrote in 1938, if one could pull him out today from his dwelling of peace, he would surely rewrite this opinion. Maugham’s vision of leaders and managers, with that bent of mind is a rarity today in the business world.
Success has to be crafted uniquely in relation to the skill set and abilities; it ceases to be an achievement worth any salt, if it is derived from the foolishness of others. Hence success ought to make for a humble man, not bitter and cruel. Success surely knocks upon those who have the mental capacity to endure it with wisdom.
The most challenging thing is not mere achievement of success, but its maintenance.
Most leaders and managers make a mess of their own success. Only a few have the head to wear the crown, for it is uneasy for most, to bear the responsibility of attaining stability of success.
Only last evening at a literary event, the chief guest , a former federal minister was asked by a leading journalist, how come in a career spanning six decades, there was no scandal, real or even hearsay, nor any rumours of wrongdoing or even aspersions of anything inconsistent or a misdemeanour associated with him (despite a desperate search, he said, by snooping reporters) —- the modest gentleman he is (the former minister ), in a matter of fact manner said, words implying, it is simple, if the moral compass is in the right direction. Easier said. But his success stands out enduringly. It is extremely difficult to remain unscathed in an environment that in the least can be unfriendly and at its best (which it usually is) extremely hostile. The maintenance of success requires deep anchors in moral, financial and ethical uprightness. Recognition is a delicate crystal, its fragility needs to be protected by a thick covering of non-compromising standards of behaviour at all times.
Success, we hear more often as a management slogan or cliché, that it is not a destination but a milestone on the journey of a career or even life. Indeed it is. However, many look at success as a terminal point. All efforts upon reaching a milestone are abandoned with the misbelief that they have arrived at the destination. In any journey, once the destination is reached, it calls for suspension of all hard work and places demand for resting, and most put up their feet. This attitude by the performer, be it a manager or a leader spells doom, a death knell. The pursuit of success is a never ending journey. In Robert Frost’s words, always, “miles to go, before I sleep”. The quest for success cannot be quenched by milestones, it is by satisfaction. Only death is the destination from where one boards the bus to eternal life. But until then, the game should be on… Piling for successive successes.
It is not just the world of business and economics that has a fancy for misinterpreting success. The political universe is full of such anomalies where the leader, if he does one good thing for the people at large, considers that to be the end of it all… end, usually it is, not of the journey, but their political careers.
Lee Kaun Yew, who singlehandedly with adroit resoluteness built the tiny city state of Singapore, achieved major all-round successes; anybody else in his place would have fallen victim to vain glorious, demagoguery. He did not lose his marbles. He protected and maintained his success and recognition by relegating himself down the political hierarchy, and with tremendous ease became a senior minister, having been prime minister for over three decades. Bertrand Russell, remarked once, “Unless a man has been taught what to do with success after getting it, the achievement of it must inevitably leave him a prey to boredom”.
Success can be a major failure if it blots out from the arena, those colleagues who are not yes men, who are, but sincere to offer constructive counsel and advice. There can be no improvements, if those surrounding the manager/leader, remind them only of their merits. Most of us learn best from competitors and adversaries.