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How to Survive Success

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Success is fickle: it is hard won, easily lost, and can lead to decisions that guarantee failure. 

Why Success Sometimes Breeds Failure

When a successful company, team, or leader fails, the cause usually falls into one or more of these categories:

  • Solidified Strategy: A strategy that is successful once is relied on over and over again despite the fact that the actual problem needs an entirely new approach. The strategy could have run into technology, financial, resource, or consumer barriers over time, but these are ignored in favor of “what works.”
  • Internal Obstacles: An organization, team, or leader refuses to plan ahead or for anything other than success (for example, the team lacks a succession plan) or interferes with an objective analysis of the situation (for example, a leader implements a poor strategy because it will lead to instant benefit, rather than long-term success).
  • Reluctance to Change: Something changes in the industry, economy, technology, or other external situation—from human manufacturing to robotic, for example, or from onsite cohesive teams to remote diverse teams. But the organization, team, or leader does not move with the change.
  • Loss of Passion: The organization, team, or leader loses a sense of purpose and focuses solely on results: meeting metrics becomes more important than why or how anyone does what they do. 

How to Survive Success Professionally

Surviving success requires taking some professional actions to avoid future failure:

  • Research:  When faced with a problem, you must objectively research root causes, analyze risks, compare possible solutions, and provide course corrections, rather than relying on past strategies or old data.
  • Re-evaluate Your Resources: Over time, finances, employees, and time constraints change—even different problems occurring at the same time have different needs. You need the flexibility to correctly assign resources according to priorities, availability, and the strengths of you and your team.
  • Plan and Execute: While resting on laurels is a comforting thought, in reality sustaining success requires as much planning and implementation as reaching success. Otherwise, you or your team may grow too fast, neglect to acquire the skills or data you needs, or more too quickly onto the next problem without implementing lessons learned from the previous one.

How to Survive Success Personally

Success can be personally stressful. It can feel undeserved. It can overturn your self-image, perhaps in terms of risk taking or how well you get through difficult conversations. If you become more successful than an important figure in your life—a parent or mentor, for example—you may even feel shame.

You may pressure yourself or others may pressure you to match or better your previous success right away. If you fail to reach that level again, the previous success may begin to feel fraudulent, as if you were “just lucky.” Or success can cause you and your team to feel you deserve greater rewards or more challenging projects than are likely to occur. 

To survive success personally, you need to:

  • Celebrate what you have achieved.
  • Take time to relax and rebuild your resilience, so you can handle whatever success brings next.
  • Reconnect with your values, remembering that success has many different definitions.
  • Learn new things, becoming comfortable again with being outside of your comfort zone and regaining self-confidence in your ability to handle new situations.
  • Mentor others, passing on what you learned and readying others to share the burden.
  • Plan your future, deciding how this success changes your vision or mission and how your new goals can be reached.
  • Stop negative self-talk and, if necessary, speak to a professional about the stress, burdens, and uncertainties of success. Your reaction is not uncommon, and tools like S.M.a.R.T training can help.

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