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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Success Breeds Success – Maybe!

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #128

The old adage "success breeds success" is one that I have lived by and seen play out in successful organizations.

Being successful gives you a sense of pride, confidence, and recognition. This recognition often comes with support from within and outside the organization, as everyone wants to be associated with winning. When I stepped away from leading an organization to observing it more objectively, I realized that success could also be detrimental to progress.

When people inside the organization begin to resist change by saying, "Hey, we are already good; why mess with it" you, as a leader, are confronted with two divergent postulations. On the one hand, you want to embrace the ambiance associated with success, but there is a nagging belief that there is room for improvement. When an individual, team, organization, or school becomes satisfied with the current level of success, it is imminent that a decline is on the horizon. It is incumbent upon the leaders to recognize the impending dangers of success and act.

The diagram below illustrates the effectiveness of the sigmoid or S-shaped curve in exemplifying how successfully altering something proceeds through three stages. The top image demonstrates how any original effort will begin with a decline, accelerated progress, and another dip. The middle and bottom illustration conveys that as you advance, developing a new vision and plan is vital to keep progressing. If you wait until a downturn, it becomes more difficult to make gains.

A study conducted at Stoney Brook University and released by the National Academy of Sciences researched whether the adage "success breeds success" is true. It determined that unmerited early success creates inequality among people with equal qualifications. The study also found that many initial successes did not ensure future success. However, an intriguing finding may be applicable: Participants who received earlier support had a 9% to 31% better chance of obtaining additional aid in backing, awards, product endorsements, or signatures of approval.

Interestingly, all the studies I examined pointed to success as a process instead of a destination. In the past, I believed that reaching a particular accomplishment would be rewarded with further advancement. But according to the research, offering and receiving feedback promptly and providing praise based on merit is more crucial.

Contemplating the notion that success begets success, these notions are where I began my rumination. Comprehending that success and failure are two sides of the same coin; I consider the following ideas.

  • To start, it is crucial to understand what constitutes success. Everyone defines success differently —for the individual, a team, an organization, or even a school. The idea of what it means to be successful can fluctuate and evolve.

  • Once you know what success could look like, think about what success will look and feel like in the future. Stretch your thoughts as far ahead as possible; consider today, tomorrow, next week, and beyond.

  • The third step to achieving your goals is formulating a strategy. However, it is unwise to pick a plan of action before clearly defining what success looks like for you. Jumping onto any trend may make you spin in circles while chasing success. There are many strategies to reach your destination, but the best one will be tailored to fit your vision of success. I urge you to think carefully about what strategy to pursue - it doesn't make sense to chart the course until you know where to go.

You now have a plan and a goal in sight. What should you do first, and what kind of outcome can you expect? Start with small steps and allow for the possibility that you may need to adjust your approach. Your vision should remain unchanged, but your methods might require modification. You will encounter challenges along the way; persevering through obstacles will take courage and determination. Success isn't a one-time occurrence; it's achieved by taking incremental steps in the right direction.

Success can come in many forms, whether for yourself, a team, an organization, or even a school. It's essential to create a vision of success that is unique and specific to you. I think of success as being the best version of me while also positively affecting those around me. Achieving your definition of success is possible, but don't be fooled into thinking you've arrived. Keep striving, envision a new future, and take the journey repeatedly. To quote Aristotle:

"We are what we repeatedly do." Success, then, is not a destination but a habit.

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