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The Success Delusion Part 3

Why It Can Be So Hard for Successful Leaders to Change

Making the Changes We Need to Make
Now let’s turn the spotlight on you, because few of us are immune to the success delusion. Pick one of your own quirky or unattractive behaviors; something that you know is annoying to friends, family or coworkers. Now ask yourself: Do I continue to do this because I think it is somehow associated with the good things that have happened to me? Examine it more closely. Does this behavior help you achieve results - or is it one of those irrational superstitious beliefs that have been controlling your life for years? The former is ‘because of’ behavior, the latter ‘in spite of.’

Overcoming the success delusion requires vigilance and constantly asking yourself, “Is this behavior a legitimate reason for my success, or am I just kidding myself?”

The first step in achieving positive change in behavior is to realize that it is hard for successful leaders to change – for all of the reasons that we have discussed. Realize that the same beliefs that have helped you get to where you are, may be holding you back from where you want to go.

All of my personal coaching clients are either CEOs or people who have the potential to be CEOs in major corporations. I don’t get paid if they don’t achieve positive, measurable change – not as judged by themselves, but as determined by their key stakeholders. These top executives are brilliant people, who have achieved amazing success and who want to get even better. Even with all of this motivation and ability, everyone one of my clients will verify that changing behavior may be simple – but it is far from easy.

How can you achieve positive change? Get in the habit of asking the key people in your life how you can improve. Recruit them in helping you get from where you are (which can be a pretty great place) to where you want to be (which can be even better). Realize that your first inclination when people point your ‘areas for improvement’ may well be to believe that they are ‘wrong’ or ‘confused’. Accept the fact that your belief in your previous success– and your contribution to your team’s success – is probably over-stated. Give them the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Be open to the fact that they may well be right and you may well be the one who is ‘confused’.

Face the reality that you are only going to change what you choose to change - and that the motivation and commitment to change has to come from inside you. I have often heard Ed Zander, the CEO of Motorola, teach his high-potential leaders the value of encouraging participation, while also being clear that every decision should not be made by a vote or through achieving consensus. Leaders have to make decisions. After listening to input from people you respect, only work on the changes that you believe are right for you and your organization. The desire for change has to come from inside you.

Finally, watch out for over-commitment. Keep the change process positive, simple, focused and fast. Realize that your natural inclination will be to think that you can do more than you actually will do. In the past I suggested that leaders pick 1-3 areas for behavioral change. That was when I was young and idealistic. I now suggest that leaders pick one key behavior and get better at that.

Keep on following-up with the people that you respect, and you can keep on getting better. One of my clients, George Borst, the CEO of Toyota Financial Services, was very successful in changing the behavior that he picked for improvement – becoming a more effective coach. As we reviewed the positive results from his co-workers, he had a great realization. “If I am going to keep improving as a leader, I am going to have to be working on this stuff for the rest of my life – aren’t I!”

As the wise older General noted, as you move up the ranks and get that star – don’t let it go to your head. Realize that every promotion can make it harder to change. Always balance the confidence that got you here – where you are – with the humility required to get you there – where you have the potential to go

Life is good.