Why Great Leaders Never 'Chase' Success

Achieving success — it’s the goal of all goals, yes? The Great White Whale of every impressive career. It’s the thing we all chase, strive for, and build our day-to-day around.

But, more and more, I’m wondering … to what end?

We see the cycle over and over: Leaders working exhaustively, night and day, toward the next big promotion, the next standout project, the next dazzling result. This insatiable quest for ‘more success’ is the hallmark trait of nearly every driven leader I’ve worked with.

But once ‘success’ is achieved, are those leaders happy or satisfied?

Are they thrilled with themselves, their accomplishments, and, most importantly, with their overall life?

On rare occasions, yes … But usually, no.

In fact, some of the most successful, ‘top of their game’ professionals I know are also some of the most burned out, disappointed, and even downright depressed people. They work so hard (sometimes at enormous personal expense) to reach some success benchmark only to feel entirely empty once they reach it.

Article after article, and talk after talk delve into why this occurs: If success is the thing we’re all endlessly chasing, why don’t we feel fulfilled once we achieve it?  

Coaches like me will say it’s because success is usually sought after in a very short-sighted way: Chase this thing, than that next thing. It’s rarely pursued tied to a larger sense of life purpose and meaningful contribution. Instead, we measure success by external markers: my boss said I’m successful, that review said I’m successful, that media coverage said I’m successful.

But what matters is: Do YOU think you’re successful? Does the work you do serve the overall picture you have for your life? If not, no matter how many accolades you rack up, your accomplishments will still feel empty.

Life coach Tony Robbins, in an interview with Success.com, explains it this way:

“I have seen business moguls achieve their ultimate goals but still live in frustration, worry and fear. What’s preventing these successful people from being happy? The answer is: They focused only on achievement and not fulfillment.

Extraordinary accomplishment does not guarantee extraordinary joy, happiness, love and a sense of meaning. These two skill sets feed off each other, and makes me believe that success without fulfillment is failure.

But, of course … you KNOW this already! You’ve heard this all before.

You know purpose matters. You know your work should “start with why.” But you still don’t prioritize infusing a sense of real purpose into your day to day work, or your day to day life.

It’s easier to just keep working endless hours. It’s easier to just carry on the same old way. After all, life’s good enough, right? You’re happy enough.

Well, I’m here to tell you … great leaders don’t burn themselves out or numb themselves out. And, the difference between great leaders and ‘good enough’ executives is the way they define ‘success’… and how they go about pursuing it.

When great leaders hit their success benchmarks, those achievements and those accomplishments actually feel good. Why? Because they do the following 4 things to ensure professional success aligns with their overall goals in life:

  1. They take action with a sense of purpose.

    The best executives I work with don’t talk about where they want to go or what title they want to rise to. Instead, they talk about the impact they want to have, the ways they want to make a difference … in their company, in their industry, in the world.

    They also remember at all times that they’re not just leading a team or their company. They’re also leading their family, the families of their employees, and the community around them.

    What drives their work is something far bigger than winning the next promotion. Their daily decisions reflect a larger sense of direction, values and mission.

  2. They stay connected to people ‘in real life.’

    Effective leaders stay personally plugged into their family, their colleague relationships, to themselves and to their health. They intuitively realize that fulfillment in life correlates directly to the deep connections we create. What matters are strong relationships in the here and now. Not the ones we eventually invest in … later, down the road, you know, after we finish just this one last thing first.

    Great leaders not only understand the strategic value of cultivating Relationship Currency in the workplace, but also that forging strong relationships supports their longevity personally. Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of the renowned 75-year long Harvard Study of Adult Development says overwhelming research confirms: “[People] who are happiest in their relationships at age 50 are healthiest at age 80.”

    As such, true leaders know when to log off email and pay attention to their family. They step away from their desk and have lunch with their team. They talk to people face-to-face, in real time. And their lives and their career are better for it.

  3. They prioritize  humility and resilience.

    Things don’t always go your way when you’re a leader. Sometimes your ego and other related behaviors create strong reactions from the environment around you. Even the best leaders make wrong decisions and they have no one to blame but themselves.

    No matter what the root cause of their epic ‘failure,’ great leaders have the resilience to dust themselves off, learn from what happened and keep going. And most importantly — they consider the fumble itself a vital and valuable part of their success (not a detraction from it).

    They measure success by why brings out the best in them. Sometimes that’s flawless execution, and sometimes that’s a massive mistake that teaches them a critical, career-defining lesson. So, remember with humor and compassion: You’re only human (and so is everyone else around you).

  4. They make their health a top priority.  

    It’s refreshing to see more and more successful leaders refusing to buy into the toxic, played out corporate notion that working 24/7 is somehow heroic or noble. Instead, they recognize the toll leadership takes and, in response, they take excellent care of themselves in order to bring their best to the table … consistently.

    And hey, not everyone is burning the midnight oil by force, right? Many visionary leaders love what they do and can’t help but pour all of their energy into a new project or the current work challenge. The only problem is, this state of mind can be very helpful, but it’s also a never ending stressful process.

    Over time that ongoing stress kills your performance and wreaks havoc on your health. Great leaders understand this and pace themselves from the start. They prioritize sleep, exercise, and unplugged downtime, knowing they’ll show up better for everyone else later if they show up for themselves a bit each and every day.

Look, believe me — I’m no one to throw stones on this particular topic.

I know the glass house I live in. The relentless urge to strive, strive, strive is practically part of my DNA. It was certainly a fundamental part of my upbringing.

I was raised by an incredibly “successful” VP of Sales in France. My father was a self-made, elite executive and, as his daughter, I saw both the bright light of his public professional triumph AND the dark shadow of stress and personal loss obtaining that ‘success’ cost him … and cost me, my brothers (especially), and our entire family.

What I know from my personal experience and from working with thousands of top-tier professionals every day for over 30 years … ‘success’ is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Pursuing success for the sake of success actually makes you LESS inspiring and LESS effective as a leader.  

Feeling deeply connected to a sense of meaning, to a sense of connection with others, and to a sense of what keeps you grounded as a human being is not a ‘novel, trendy notion’ … it is ESSENTIAL not only to your success as a great leader, but also to your success in life.

I wish you the truest kind of success there is — fulfillment!

This article originally published on LinkedIn.

Categories: Coaching, Leadership

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