In Tough Times, is Your Definition of Success Too Narrow?

Dr. Purushothaman
December 11, 2013

You have seen it far too many times. Successful, top-of-the-heap leaders gone awry.

Madoff. Blagojevich. Lay. Just to name a few.

On top of these disappointments, you overlay the uncertainty of our economic outlook... and you try to make sense of this mess.

But the pieces don't fit. There is a missing piece to the puzzle.

I spoke recently to a group of 120 professional women. I had addressed this group previously on the topic of leadership so this time I spoke to them about "Finding Your Passion."

After all, with February being International Leadership Month as well as the month of love, it was no surprise to me that my speech on "Finding Your Passion" was just another way to address the importance of leadership.

Yes...passion and leadership are both matters of the heart.

As I traveled back home after my speech I reflected on how my messages of passion-driven work were so relevant and needed in our current economic times and to these fallen "leaders."

You see when times get tough; it seems that passion, heart and leadership are the first to be compromised. And yet, when times are tough you should be shoring them up instead.

When you find your passion and live it; you are living a life that is fully integrated. A life that doesn't have a work side and a life side, or one with secrets you can't share with either side. No, it just has one big piece. ONE whole life.

It is only when you are fully integrated that you can lead this life, and others, effectively. But this integrated ONE life requires a new definition of success. A much broader definition of success where passion, purpose and heart can't be compromised.

How do you think these leaders that went awry defined their success? Probably in a very narrow way. I venture to guess that it was: Money.

Money is not the bad guy here, but the lack of passion, purpose and heart coupled with a singular focus on money at all costs, including their own integrity, is what went wrong here.

Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer was recently interviewed about his upcoming new book High Commitment, High Performance: How to Build a Resilient Organization for Sustained Advantage. In his new work he studied successful CEOs to answer several questions about achieving long term, sustainable business performance, particularly when faced with our current economic climate.

His studies found that more effective leaders were those who defined success in a much broader sense. They encompassed metrics such as customer and employee value, as well as community and society impact into their overall view of success. They defined it to be much more than just profit and stock price, but at the same time these CEOs still had a strong focus and discipline around these latter metrics.

As you would suspect, when faced with difficult times these CEOs made far different decisions than those whose metrics were only about profit and stock price. They were less likely to move directly to layoffs, recognizing that people were a key asset. It is not that they never used lay offs to affect change, but they found creative ways to reduce labor costs through shortened work weeks, lower pay, and fewer benefits.

The CEOs in Beer's study represent the kinds of leaders who have a more holistic view on business success that embodies passion, heart and purpose. They didn't compromise these things even when times were tough.

Just as exceptional leaders take a broad view during difficult times, you need to raise your own bar and define success more broadly during these same times. Define your success more broadly to encompass your passion, purpose, and heart.

So as you go through your day trying to weather these tough times, are you living only for the paycheck? Have you parked your passion elsewhere? Is your definition of success too narrow? Broaden your definition. Start pursuing your passion, purpose and heart, even if they seem to be frivolous or non-revenue generating.

By defining your success more broadly, you will start to experience greater and greater levels of success. The kind of success that is capable of weathering difficult times.

And that is one of the missing puzzle pieces! Don't you agree?

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