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How Will You Know If You Are Successful?

We are celebrating something fun with this week’s episode of the Curious Choice Leader - it’s our 10th Episode!  I can’t believe how fast that has come around and how much fun I’m having talking to you each week, and I really appreciate each and every one of you who listens.

I set up this podcast to help experts like you become the leaders you want to be, to create working worlds that work for you, your business and everyone connected with it.   Right now it’s been very focused on how we lead through theses strange and rapidly changing times, and I have really appreciated the feedback some of you have shared about how you are using some of the things we have talked about and how it’s got you thinking differently about something.  

You have no idea how happy feedback like that makes me - my big hope for this podcast is that the content does challenge you and get you to think so that you can step into your leadership one curious choice at a time.

So I’m calling that a success.

And success is what we are going to talk about today, how do you know you are successful?

So are you ready?  It’s time to get curious about success and make some choices about what it means to you.

Is success hitting your goals and objectives?

When we are working on a project, a change programme or for someone else, we know if we are successful in that role when we hit whatever measures and targets are in place for us and our teams.  We may have objectives set for our work and our role as a leader, and we may well measure our success in our role against those, or against the rewards our business offers us.  And that’s not just the money they pay you. There was one company I worked in, for example,  where having a meeting table next to your desk was seen as the ultimate sign of having made it.

We might have goals set for how we manage our teams, and we may even have set a few extra for ourselves.And these definitions are great, in the short term, but if you have ever had that feeling that you delivered what was needed in the way it was needed, but it just didn’t feel great or even like success, then you will know there is more to being successful than hitting targets set by someone else.

So if you are hoping for some insights into how to lead your team to hit its objectives, this episode is going to leave you wanting.  Instead, we are going to do something we haven’t really done in previous episodes and instead of talking about what your team needs from you and serving your team, we are going to turn the focus inwards and talk about you.  

Absolutely leadership is about your team rather than about you, but you can’t do your best work for your team, or be the best leader you can be, if you are not working in alignment with your personal values and your own definition of what success means for you.  And that is what we are focusing on in this episode.

Why do you need to know what success means for you?

Defining what success means for you, what it looks like, what it feels like and how you will know if you are successful, sounds easy on one level, but something interesting happens when we start to really challenge ourselves to get curious about our definitions.  It’s much harder than we think it’s going to be and the answers aren’t as obvious and are a lot more complex than we thought.

The good news is there are no wrong answers to what success means to you, it’s going to be a very personal answer, and one that only you will know is correct.It’s also something that everyone you know will have an opinion on, and they may well judge you based on their own definitions of success.

So you may be wondering if it’s so hard to work out what success is for you, and others are going to have an opinion, why it matters to figure it out anyway.

The answer to that is simple - it makes every decision simpler.  You will know what goals and aspirations to set yourself, you will know what motivates you, you will know if an opportunity is or isn’t for you, you will be more aware of the opportunities that lead you in the right direction and you will be more confident in the choices you make.

So whose definition of success is it anyway?

OK, so how can you work out what success looks like for you.  The key here is to get curious and explore the idea from different angles.  I’m going to share some questions with you in a bit, but before I do, I want to talk a bit more about the fact that everyone has their own definition of success and their own way of determining if other people are successful.

What we see and hear around us

Our definitions are moulded and shaped by what we see and hear around us. The pressure is applied by the thoughts, words and actions of people we know and by the cultural norms around us.  And this can be very deep-rooted, as children, we probably knew our parents’ aspirations for us and what they would consider us successful when we achieved it, be that a gold star, a good school report or even our career choice. Going against those and deciding what we want to do to be successful can be tough, and it has been the subject of lots of great films!

Sometimes our success is judged by us and those around us by the things that we do, I know my parents, like many of their generation, hoped that I would grow up, meet a nice young man who would take care of me and have lots of kids.  And many of society join them in measuring women by their children, not something that is an option for everyone or something that everyone wants, and it’s totally OK not to want even if you have that option.  It’s about your own definition of success.

Sometimes we are aware of the picture of success that others are imposing on us, and sometimes we are not.  In our jobs, for example, the measures being used are made clear by goals, objectives, the feedback we get and the behavioural definitions and role models in the organisation.  When we meet someone for the first time, however, we may have absolutely no clue how they are deciding if we are successful.

The things we have - the impact of marketing

And then sometimes our success is measured by the things we have, long before social media made what you have and the external appearance of your life into something to flaunt and make sure everyone knows about, we were judging people by where they live, and where they go on holiday.  I know I’m not the only person whose family and friends have judged their new boyfriend by the car they drove.  

The pressures around these material measures of success are huge - and there is a whole industry built around telling us we are not successful unless we have their products - it is literally the job of many marketers to sell is their companies vision of success, so we spend our money with them to feel good about our sleeves, that is successful.

And many of them are great at what they do, and we knowingly part with our money to buy into their brands.  But sometimes it’s done much more insidiously,   I’ve seen it all too often, especially in the online business world where the tactics used are not based on such a visible exchange.

As a coach, I get targeted by people on a daily basis who want to sell me the dream of doing less work and making a six or seven-figure income.  They promise huge results from very little work and tell me how to do everything from finding unlimited leads, sell to high-end clients, to run a course and if I do exactly what they say I will be successful - and if it doesnt work it’s because I didn’t do it right or believe it enough; basically it’s my fault.  

This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start and this episode is not here to be a takedown of those modern-day snake oil sellers, so let’s just say, engage your brain around these things, and if it looks too good to be true or doesn’t seem to add up or make sense on the surface you are probably best walking away, after all, if there was one set of emails that made everyone rich, why would someone sell them to a super low price if you buy them in the next 5 minutes, and we know from our attempts to buy clothes that one size never fits anyone let alone all.

So the point of talking about this is that they are pushing their definition of success on you.  I’m very clear, for example, that I don’t want to run online courses.  I love working with people one to one and having a real impact, that’s where the joy in what I do comes from for me.  Teaching groups in real-time are fun for me too, but online courses lack that connection and having worked behind the scenes with businesses who have them, they are a lot of work, a lot of financial investment, make a low return both in terms of time and money and can actually damage the reputation and the business of talented people.  The people selling the dream of ‘build a course based on something you know a little about and sit back and let the money roll in’, don’t tell you that the people the money rolls in for is them! The mantra from the film Field Of Dreams - build it, and they will come, is just that a dream and certainly not a business reality!So are courses for me no, quite aside from the numbers not adding up and the amount of time I would need to spend selling the course, they won’t make me feel successful because of that lack of contact and the lack of visibility of the results they are getting.

Without a firm understanding of what success looks and feels like for me, like everyone else I would be very susceptible to these people selling by appealing to emotional and physical aspirations.

So we can know we are successful from how we feel, what we are spending our time doing and from the size of our bank balance and what we can buy.  There are other aspects of our definition to consider too.  

Status and Relationships

We can define it in terms of status and popularity too.  We are going to look at those two together as in many ways they are two ways of looking at the same thing - they are defining your success in terms of other people’s ratings and opinions.

Without wanting to make myself sound as old as I am, it can be hard for the generations that have grown up watching programmes like the X Factor and with things like Instagram where self-worth can be linked to the number of followers and likes that you have being everything, to define success as anything more than those vanity metrics.  

But here is the thing - What difference will having another few thousand followers really have, what difference will being more visible make, what will change when you get that next promotion?  What we know, and something one influencer found out on Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank if you are listening outside the UK) is that the number of likes and follows you have on social media do not equal money in the bank.  The influencer concerned was presenting her opportunity on the basis that she was an influencer and because she had, however many thousands of followers it was, that was all she would need to make it worth investing.  The Dragons couldn’t get her to elaborate on how she was going to make money beyond that - and what followed was one of those great standoff moments you sometimes get in the Den.  The point being that they had very different definitions of success and one did not translate into the other’s world at all.

How to work out what success means to you

So how can you start to get to your definition of success?

There are lots of different ways, if you like writing then journal around these questions if talking it out works best for you try talking about it with someone you trust not to impose their views on you, if letting it brew in your brain for a bit works, do that, maybe draw or mind map or maybe a bit of all of these to really get curious and explore the ideas that come up for you.

As we have talked about success has many dimensions, and we need to explore them all.

One of my favourite ones to start with is with asking yourself, how will you know if you are successful?  Another great place to start is a question I was first asked when I worked through Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It’s a bit morbid, but it really made me think and kickstarted my thinking about what success means for me, and many of the ideas it uncovered probably 20 years ago are still part of how I define success for myself.  

What I was challenged to do, and what I'm challenging you to do is to imagine you are at your own funeral - what would you want people to be saying about you?  How do you want to be remembered?

Success can be determined by the things you do, so what things do you want on your list - they could be one-off achievements or the way you act, the contribution you make or anything in between.We’ve also talked about how it can be measured in terms of things.  There is lots of literature about creating a vision board of what you are looking for in the future - and this can be a great way to represent what you consider successful in terms of material things your success brings you, but it is just one lens and to be really sure of what success is to you, you need to look through all the lenses so you don’t miss something important.

And then we need to get precise about what feelings we will be experiencing when we are successful.  Success does not feel the same to everyone, so I challenge you to break down what you mean by feeling successful.Then the final lense to look at success through is relationships and people.  What kind of relationships do you want, what kind of people do you want in your life?

So that’s just a few questions to get you started.

Summary & Taking Action

OK, so in this episode, we have turned our curiosity inwards so we can work out what success means for us.  We have looked at why knowing is important, how our definitions are shaped and the impact of other people on them and then we have looked at how we can start to uncover our own definition of success.

My hope for you is that you will make the time to get really clear about what success means for you, what it feels like, what you will be doing and what and who you will have in your life.  That definition may evolve over time, so don’t feel what you decide now you are going to have to live with forever.  When I left the corporate world, I soon discovered that buying a new pair of shoes every month didn’t make me feel successful in the way it had in the past, and in fact I found a pair I hadn’t even worn when I moved house some 7 or so years after I left!

Once you have your definition, you will be able to hold yourself to account and make choices that move you ever close to meaningful success and be in a stronger place to lead others.

If you need any help with this, please reach out and ask, it’s foundational to everything else you do and how effective you can be as a leader, and I’m happy to help you uncover it if I can.

The things I share are based on my experiences, and some will be more relevant to you than others - it’s up to you to decide what you take and apply from this podcast.  That’s what curious choice leadership is all about - getting curious and building our understanding then evaluating what we find and making choices about what’s right for us and our business.


So the question I would like to leave you with is

What does success mean to you?

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