Don’t Anchor Your Life to Personal Achievement Our Self-Worth Must Not be Linked to Our Leadership Success
You can lose everything for which you have worked so hard to achieve as a leader. How? You are human, and this world is imperfect. The dilemma this creates for us is this: How can we work so hard to build something worthwhile, knowing it can all be lost in an instant? What does that say about us? Would we have wasted our lives if that were to happen?
If we are not careful, we will allow our success as leaders to define our self-worth. If we do, our work gradually becomes our reason to exist. When the culture is good and the customers are happy, we see that as proof we are good leaders. So, we feel great. We’ve succeeded! But when we are unable to launch our business or we are forced to shut it down, we feel terrible. After all, all our hard work went to waste.
This is a common perception, but it is a dangerous fallacy that can pull us down like an anchor.
Don’t allow your self-image to be determined by your success in leadership.
I remind myself of these truths often regarding my personal success in leadership.
- Regardless of your leadership acumen, you may not succeed. Marissa Mayer was touted as the savior of Yahoo in 2012, but in 2017 she stepped down as President and CEO without having succeeded. Why does that happen? Because leadership is not like making a lasagna. You don’t just follow a recipe and always get the same result. Regardless of your position, your wisdom, or your knowledge, success may elude you.
- You may never build anything worthwhile. This point takes it a step further. You may work hard for many years, and for inexplicable reasons, whether caused by you or something outside of you, your big beautiful plans may never come to fruition. You may say, But Wes, never? Nothing? If you work at growing yourself and helping others, this is unlikely, but it is certainly possible.
- You can lose everything you built or worked for. As a business leader in the healthcare industry, I know this is true. We have all seen entrepreneurs shut down businesses they worked so hard to build. While often we are told by leadership experts that failure is a pre-cursor to meteoric success; sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is final.
- You can lose everything you saved. Over half a million bankruptcies take place in the US every year. Anything material thing you have worked hard to obtain can be lost.
- You can be wrong. You may say, No, Wes I know that my knowledge is based on experience or data. I am right. May I remind you of Confirmation Bias? Consider this Mark Twain quote: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” I have believed in certain principles for over ten years, only to find out they were not quite true.
- You can face insurmountable challenges. Yes, regardless of your personal prowess, there may be circumstances you cannot overcome.
- You can lose any group of people you have worked to bring together. In 1873 successful American Attorney Horatio G. Spafford lost his four daughters in a sinking ship. His son had died of pneumonia before that. I knew a person who worked hard to build an amazing family, but one of her children became a drug addict and homeless.
- You may never figure out how to become an effective leader. This assertion may be the hardest for me personally to grapple with—because I write these articles believing that people can become better leaders. But it is not a guarantee. You may become better, but not good enough to be effective to lead in the area you are needed at the time you are needed.
Encouragement for the Journey
I don’t mean to depress you or make you hopeless by reading the points above. My hope rather, is to make the case that you must not build your life’s worth upon your success in leadership. Understand that life is about the journey, not an end result. Here are a few ideas I hope will help center us, as leaders, in light of what I mentioned above.
- Don’t take what you are doing for granted. Work hard, grow intentionally, become better.
- Don’t attach the value of your whole existence to your success at anything you build.
- Celebrate and be grateful in success, be understanding and self-forgiving in failure, even permanent failure.
- Instead of putting your entire focus on success, focus on doing what’s right.
- Being a good leader is not about the result, but about what you do along the way.
- Being a better leader is becoming a person of wisdom, more and more each day, not necessarily accomplishing more.
- Succeed in these areas:
- Honor God.
- Honor people.
- Honor and provide for your family.
- Do what is right.
- Take care of your body.
- Work hard, and don’t be lazy.
Keep these somewhere to reference when the journey is hard. For often, when we live a life of bold sacrificial leadership, we are taking our greatest risks. Remember, it is the highest privilege to lead others. It is worth the risk of pain or failure.
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