3 Important Lessons Leaders Can Learn From Success

3 important lessons leaders can learn from success that will help them inspire and motivate employees over the long run.

If there’s one attribute organizations and leaders everywhere share in common, it’s the pursuit to achieve success in their collective efforts. Granted, there is quite a large variance in terms of how each organization chooses to define what success would look like for them. But there’s little question that – at the end of the day – all of us are driven by the need to know that we’ll one day achieve success through our contributions and efforts.

Of course, there’s another aspect to success that many of us share in common and that is what do we do once we achieve that success? And by this, I’m not referring to how we choose to acknowledge or celebrate this accomplishment. Rather, I’m referring to that moment when the dust settles and we look with pride at what we’ve attained and find ourselves stuck with that lingering question – so, what do we do now?

If you look at any successful organization, you can see the answer they share in common: the focus tends to be on how to replicate both the conditions and measures they took that allowed them to achieve this successful outcome.

In some cases, this manifests itself in incremental improvements over the current product or service, something that’s become a key tactic of every major smartphone manufacturer.

Others, though, might look at how their concept, product, or idea ‘disrupted’ a market or industry and then go about looking for how to graft that approach onto other industries, which is why there’s an ongoing search to discover what will no doubt be initially described as ‘the next Uber’.

Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these approaches in the short term, a recent conversation with one of my daughters helped to crystallize how we’re missing out on the important lessons to be learned from success in terms of the long view.

Last week, my daughter Malaika was among a select group of students at her high school who were recognized for their achievement of earning an year-round average of over 90%. This was her second year in a row where she earned an over 90% average, and I was curious to learn how she viewed achieving this level of success a second time around.

For example, does she believe she’s found the approach to achieve these high marks and all she has to do is to simply repeat these measures going forward? Or does she expect things to change and the need to adapt her approach to remain among the top students at her school?

Obviously, this quandary reflects similar questions leaders face when their organization finally succeeds in achieving its objectives. And after talking with Malaika to learn more about her perspective on this, I realized that her example sheds some light on three important lessons we can learn from success, lessons that go beyond where our next innovation or idea will come from to understanding what drives us over the long run to bring our best efforts to what we do.

1. Success teaches us to be persistent no matter what stands in our way
One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in Malaika’s outlook is how she views the inevitable obstacles and roadblocks she encounters in her studies. Since earning that first over-90% average two years ago, she’s become more driven when she faces a difficult challenge or obstacle. In many ways, she’s come to learn that the inevitable difficulties she’ll face are not a reason to give up, but simply a sign that she has to push herself even harder if she wants to continue to succeed in her efforts.

Similarly, after organizations achieve a success milestone, there is the tendency to avoid daunting obstacles or approaches that could rock the boat, and instead, focus on taking initiatives that serve more to solidify or reinforce their past successes.

Now, that’s not to say that we need to constantly disrupt what we do. Rather, it means that we need to be mindful in ensuring that our successes don’t result in our being complacent in challenging ourselves to figure out how we can do and be better going forward. Something that is especially true when organizations are facing obstacles that would require a substantial amount of time and resources to overcome in order to achieve a critical goal going forward.

And here we can find the first important lesson success provides us about how to truly thrive in today’s faster-paced, ever-changing world: success teaches us the value of being persistent in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

2. Success helps us to move beyond what we can do and embrace our true potential
One of the biggest factors that fuelled this change in how Malaika not only viewed obstacles, but how she responded to her successes was her shift in perspective from focusing on her assumptions of what she could do, to instead learning about her true potential about what she could achieve.

When she first started high school, she didn’t think she had it in her to achieve such a high average because it wasn’t something she thought she could do. But when she learned to not let that voice of doubt about her abilities drown out her more aspiring one – the one that challenges her perceptions of what’s her true potential – she began to realize that earning an over-90% average was definitely within her abilities to attain.

In terms of today’s organizations, we can see parallels in the current work climate, where that increasing demand to get more done and quickly makes it easier for leaders to pigeonhole employees and teams into specific roles or skills sets based on their past performance.

Unfortunately, this sends the message to employees that it’s only this narrow set of contributions that their organization cares about, and so they start holding back on what they could be offering to help their organization achieve its long term goals and vision.

Consequently, organizations end up losing out on tapping into the full potential of what their employees and teams can truly achieve, which explains why we continue to see studies showing that employees are checking out when they show up to work because they feel less engaged in what they do.

And this is the second important lesson leaders should learn: success helps us to see beyond what we can do, to our true potential for what we can achieve [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

3. Success is only the beginning of the journey we’re currently on
In some of my talks I like to share the story of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) success in landing the Philae space probe on a comet almost two years ago. It was such an incredible feat of human ingenuity and technological prowess that the news of this achievement was shared on news outlets worldwide and cheered in people’s social media channels.

The reason I like to share this story is to highlight the fact that while the rest of us were celebrating that moment when the space probe landed on the comet, for this team of scientists and engineers, this was really only the beginning of what would turn out to be an incredible two-year mission collecting data and gaining new insights about the universe around us.

For these researchers, that moment where they captured the imagination and excitement of the world will certainly be a moment they’ll always remember and cherish as one of the biggest achievements in their careers. But that successful moment doesn’t mark the end; rather, it simply demonstrates what they’ve achieved and what they can accomplish going forward.

Indeed, since completing their space probe’s mission this past September, the researchers admitted that for them this is only the beginning of the journey they started as they expect to make numerous discoveries in the years to come from the data they’ve collected; discoveries that they expect will once again capture the world’s imagination.

And therein lies the third important lesson we can learn: our successes reveal what we’re capable of, what we’ve achieved, and what we can attain going forward [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

Of course, there are many more lessons we can learn from success, which is why it fuels our sense of meaning and purpose. But regardless of the size or significance of the successes your organization achieves, the potential is always there to discover the value of these 3 important lessons that can be gleaned from our successes.

After all, these lessons will not only help you to understand how to inspire and motivate your employees to replicate your current successes, they will also help you to broaden your view so you can discover how you can truly make a difference – both for those you serve, and for yourself.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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