Treat Success with Skepticism

Recently I attended the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) outside of Chicago and soaked in the ideas and wisdom of about a dozen speakers.  What an event!

Rasmus Ankersen is chairman of FC Midtjylland, a European football (American soccer) club in Denmark. He’s also the author of a best selling book called Entrepreneur.  He and senior leadership purchased the club several years ago and took a ‘money ball’ strategy to acquire competent but not high priced players.  The strategy is working.  He compared this strategy to that of another club that handed out big, long term contracts to the coach and players after an unexpectedly, wildly successful season.  This was an attempt to keep the mojo alive.  Unfortunately it failed miserably as that team collapsed the next year to the bottom of the league table (standings).  Ankersen says that a closer look at the data associated with the failed team’s one year success would have revealed its weaknesses and vulnerability.  Be skeptical of success.

One of my favorite stories in Henry Cloud’s excellent book Necessary Endings is the story of the remaking of Welch Allyn.  In short, a new CEO convinced the board and leadership that the strategy for the 100 year success of the company would be a recipe for failure for the next 100 years. They bought her vision, but not without intense and emotional debate, as you’d expect.  Who could be faulted for wanting to not change a thing associated with a generation of success?

For me, personally, these business stories mirror the individual journeys that we are gifted with while we’re earthly bound.  Like a contradiction, the solution is usually not obvious.  Internal maps and biases and selfish interests shield the view. It’s all the more confusing when the things that helped us climb and conquer in the first half life are now the things that hold us back from entering the second half life.

And yet within the contradiction is the hidden gem.  Cloud expertly says things almost always have to die first for other things to grow and prosper.  It’s easy to prune a dead branch of a rose bush, but do you have the wisdom and courage to prune the live branches that are the weakest and that will hold back the bush’s growth?  Great is the art of the beginning, but even greater is the art of the ending, says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I ended a coaching session with some sales managers recently by addressing their frustration with some of their salespeople not embracing the new ways of selling that we’ve trained them in. Instead of letting that frustration bind them I said let it release you.  Ask yourself what this moment is trying to teach you.  Give it space and let yourself be taught by it instead of wasting the moment with haste to escape.  Instead of wondering how to get ‘Jack’ on board the program, ask why do I resist trying to understand better why Jack feels the way he does.  The short answer could be I’ve got a quota to hit and another meeting in 15 minutes and I need Jack to stop being so damned stubborn.  Asking and learning almost always gets you closer to a solution than showing and telling.

Ironically, one speaker at the GLS, a very popular guy these days, embodied the essence of treating success with skepticism.  His stories and anecdotes were oddly old and predictably lacked impact (how long have we been hearing the story of Kodak’s blindspot with digital photography?) Smart comedians don’t tell jokes about Cleveland anymore.  I’ll borrow a line from a column Peggy Noonan wrote years ago about an entirely different topic.  It’s as if this speaker has seen the movie but hasn’t read the book.

The speakers at the GLS that impacted me the most were the ones that were the most humble.  David Livermore took the top prize.  Toward the end of his talk he dropped a jaw dropping bombshell about his story that created a silence among the 10,000 attendees.  It was awesome.  It was real.  He not only read the book, he’s written it.

Years ago I was part of a company’s strategic planning efforts.  The board brought in a very competent, smart executive to forge new direction, to change the place up.  He told us ‘we can’t there from here. “ I took it to mean that the place we need to get to, we cannot arrive through the same paths nor with the same mindsets that brought us ‘here’.  Be proud of the success that has defined the past and be skeptical to think that ‘here’ will take you where we need to go.

Stay skeptical of success my friends.

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle

Author of forthcoming book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Created the BuyCycle Funnel and Funnel Principle selling process