Nielsen: The Success Delusion

In his excellent book titled, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Marshall Goldsmith does an excellent job of explaining why virtually all successful people resist changes necessary to go from where they are (here), to where they want to go (there).

Goldsmith calls this propensity ‘The Success Delusion.’  He writes, “All of us in the workplace delude ourselves about our achievements, our status, and our contributions. We:

  • Overestimate our contribution to a project
  • Take credit, partial or complete, for successes that truly belong to others
  • Have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and our standing among our peers
  • Conveniently ignore the costly failures and time-consuming dead-ends we have created
  • Exaggerate our projects’ impact on net profits because we discount the real and hidden costs built into them (the costs are someone else’s problems; the success is ours).”


These delusions are a result of success, not failure.  “We get positive reinforcement from our past success, and, in a mental leap that’s easy to justify, we think that our past success is predictive of great things in our future.”

This is not a bad thing.  However, “our delusions become a serious liability when we need to change.  We sit there with the same godlike feelings, and when someone tries to make us change our ways we regard them with unadulterated bafflement.”

Surely the other party is confused.  Or, if the other party is not confused, we go into denial.  “This criticism does not apply to us, or else we wouldn’t be successful.”  If all else fails, we discredit the messenger.  “Why is a smart [person] like me listening to a loser like you?”

These responses, along with the positive interpretations successful people assign to their (1) past performance, (2) their ability to influence their success, (3) their optimistic belief that success will continue and (4) their sense of control over their own destiny… “and you have a volatile cocktail of resistance to change.”

How about you?  A you a victim of ‘The Success Delusion?‘  Of course you are.  We all are!

In all probability, the more successful you are, the more susceptible you are to ‘The Success Delusion.’ 

Which means… the more successful you and I are, the harder we need to work and focus on NOT resisting appropriate and necessary change.

Why is this so very important?  What Got You Here Won’t Get You There! 

Copyright © 2011 by Dan Nielsen

Founder, National Institute for Healthcare Leadership   

Cell 214-695-1292

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