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When Success Fails: Why Getting to the Top Can Ruin You

Success is a largely indefinable thing. We know it’s something we want, that we hope will rub off on us, a thing we sometimes resent in others, but nevertheless universally strive for and consider to be the desired result of whatever it is we’re doing — whether it’s closing a deal, selling a company to the highest bidder, or finally hitting a pay grade that affords us a yearly exotic vacation.

The problem? Sometimes the rush of getting to the top can mask the dangers that lurk just below that exciting, shiny surface — dangers that can rip the foundation out from under your newly-lucrative business and hurl you right back into the mire of your humble beginnings.

A Momentary Lapse and the Urge to Splurge

Public enemy #1 of the successful person or company is forgetting what it took to get to where they are. Apple might be a nearly-untouchable tech mammoth now, but the story of its inception in a California garage, as the brainchild of a college dropout and his two bearded buddies, is nearly as iconic — and important — as the sweeping success of the organization today.

If all of those crazy hours spent chasing down deals, or the ridiculous promises that were made to get a little buy-in, happen to slip from the collective mind of your business, you’re basically ensuring that no one within the company will ever fully appreciate achievements or triumphs. Nobody necessarily wants to think about that one year they spent working twice as much as they slept, but it’s a vital component of endurance and sustainability: understanding and acknowledging that your success was not a fluke, nor a stroke of luck, but the result of passionate, intelligent people putting their heads together and working their butts off in order to do something incredible.

Enemy #2? Spoiling ourselves. While a little celebration is certainly in order when you’ve hit a milestone, bankrolling a load of unnecessary perks without first re-investing in the business is a recipe for ROI destruction. Just because your business experiences an influx of profits does not mean it will continue to do so, so maybe hold off on the company jet until you get a consistent baseline.

Customer Who?

There are few businesses in the world that don’t rely heavily on a loyal customer base, even if the customer isn’t of the traditional, paying variety. When you get moving on a killer business idea, it’s all you can do to not literally start removing pieces of clothing in order to prove your dedication to the people you’re trying to impress. But as your organization grows and leaders retreat further and further behind increasing layers of the hierarchy, what was once the most vital item on your checklist — earning a customer’s engagement and endorsement — can quickly become, in practice if not preach, inconsequential to the folks at the top.

Sounds backwards, right? The C-Suite can hardly get enough of talking about widening reach, sales, and the all-important lead-gen strategy — but that’s not the same thing as taking tangible actions from the top down to ignite growth and ensure tactical follow-through. It’s just not. And if the captain of the ship never bothers to make sure that their orders are being followed, and that they themselves are adequately contributing to the execution of those orders, they won’t have a wooden leg to stand on when the crew gives up and the ship starts to sink.

The Reality Check

What’s great about the dangers of success is that they are one-hundred percent avoidable, and all it takes is a little awareness. Don’t get cocky, don’t spend money you don’t have, remember that stakeholders come in many shapes and sizes, and do as you say you do, not as you don’t.

At the end of the day, the secret to success is not about getting to the top of the mountain — it’s about finding other heights to climb without ever forgetting how you reached the summit in the first place.

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