This lingering sense of dissatisfaction is something that arises more often than you might expect. People who have a level of self-awareness will invariably greet an achievement with more questions. What’s next? Am I doing as much as I could? What do I know – and what do I not know? I’ve met several business leaders who, despite their success, feel like imposters. It’s also a common problem in family businesses, where leaders measure themselves against their predecessor and find themselves wanting.
It can be a problem for others
That constant striving for more may be a useful personal motivator, but it can cause problems for those around you. I remember when Jose Mourinho, the football manager, won the Champions League with Porto. Everyone on the pitch was celebrating, but he took off his medal and walked away. When asked about it, he said, “that challenge is over and I’m moving onto the next one.”
That happens with business leaders, too. They say, “great success, great year. What’s happening in 2017?” But your team may need a minute to catch their breath: they’ve just won a great contract. What does it do for their morale and motivation if you overlook their victories? Success isn’t just about the person at the top. It’s a result of teamwork – and without a fulfilled team of people, that won’t happen.
You need to celebrate success
It’s vital to think about how you will recognise and celebrate success, both on an individual and a collective basis. It should be part of your goal-setting to envision and talk about what success looks like: where will you be, who will be with you? It’s also a great way to tap into people’s energy, get clarity around goals and help to achieve them. You don’t have to rest on your laurels forever, but pausing for acknowledgement also gives you time to identify where you might want to channel your energy next.
Stay in the present
You can only really be successful in the period of time you’re operating in. Nevertheless, it’s important to identify the journey you’ve been on so far and recognise your own progress, the positive achievements you’ve made and the impact you’re having. It’s not just about the bottom line, either: it’s about acknowledging the less tangible ways you’ve positively impacted the organisation. At the end of the day, what should you be thankful for in that moment?
In many cases, self-doubt is a driving energy, but you’re seeking a sense of balance. Self-doubt or fear of falling short will only get you so far: what happens when you realise that’s not what success is about, or that your overbearing father is not around? It then has to be about your own desire to do well, by your own standards.
Your goals will shift
I know one business leader who successfully executed an MBO and then a sale. So wealth, which had been a strong motivator, is no longer a driving force for him. His focus has almost entirely shifted to creating the best working environment and ensuring that the business is giving back to the community in which it operates.
There are leaders who have plenty of self-belief, who measure success by the cut of your suit, the watch you wear or the car you drive. They tend to see themselves as the finished article. But they also tend to lose the admiration of their team, because they build the organisation in their likeness. That strong self-belief can manifest itself in behaviour that not everyone will embrace. And I’m not sure it’s sustainable. It comes up in language: they talk about “me”, and “my business” not “we”, “us” or “our team.” Those people tend to be less focused and lower energy, because they don’t have the ability to nurture teams.
They may say that it’s all about the bottom line: but ask the question – at what expense and with what contribution to society and your people?
Sustain your goal-setting with a bigger vision
Your vision could be a bigger thing, maybe slightly beyond reach – like Google’s “do no harm”. But the immediate goals are things like, “how do we get more customers” or ‘how do we achieve profitability?’. They are on the route to something bigger or better.
Ian Price is chief executive of the Academy for Chief Executives
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