The Real Cost of Success

While there are many dimensions for defining great Leadership, one can argue that success is by far the strongest.

A common story about success goes something like this:

Protege (to mentor): I want to be as successful as you.  Will you show me how?

Mentor: Sure.  Meet me at the beach tomorrow at 6am.

The protege shows up at the beach at 5am wearing his best business suit and brimming with the excitement of what he is about to learn.

When the mentor shows up, he asks him to follow him into the water; the suit is not looking like the greatest idea at this point.  They walk deeper and deeper into the ocean until the mentor grabs his protege’s and forces him under the water, holding him until he was sure he would black out from lack of air.

The protege jumps out of the water screaming at his mentor, “What the #$%# are you doing?”.  To which the mentor replies:

‘You want to be successful? The secret to success is wanting it as much as you wanted that next breath when you were under water”

Would any of us dispute the mentor’s message? When we look at uber-successful people across all domains, they share a single unifying characteristic…failure is simply not an option.

We revere and reward this win at all costs attitude financially…but should we?

The last few years have had us drinking from the proverbial firehouse of leaders in business and sport being exposed for using illegal practices or illegal substances to attain success.  Should any of this be a surprise?

If you are driven to achieve a goal as if life itself depends on it, ethics (or anything or anybody else for that matter) becomes an afterthought.  If you are being held under the water unsure of your next breath, how many of you would be asking what would Jesus do?

So, how can we hope to compete with organizations with a win at all costs attitude?

My cynical side is telling me if you can’t beat them than you might as well join them.  My optimistic side (who for now has a louder voice) has some hope that we will start rewarding leaders who understand that all success has a cost.  And, those that are able to minimize those costs will achieve the greatest level of success.

Although, maybe the real issue is how we define success…but that’s a topic for another day.

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