Have you every wondered about certain individuals or organizations who have achieved huge success, only to lose it and fade into obscurity within a number of years? What happened to them? Was it bad luck or unfortunate timing? Was their initial success a fluke? Did they suddenly just lose their edge?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, but there is a surprisingly common trap that many of the world’s most successful leaders and organizations risk falling into. Jim Collins calls this trap “the undisciplined pursuit of more,” where the pursuit of greater success leads to loss of focus and diffused results. Many leaders who’ve experienced great success walk into this trap so gradually they don’t realize they’re in it until failure hits them hard in the nose.
In the first chapter of his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown explains how this paradox of success has four phases:
- “Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it enables us to succeed at our endeavor.
- Phase 2: When we have success, we gain a reputation as a “go to” person. We become “good old [insert name],” who is always there when you need him, and we are presented with increased options and opportunities.
- Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, which is actually code for demands upon our time and energies, it leads to diffused efforts. We get spread thinner and thinner.
- Phase 4: We become distracted from what would otherwise be our highest level of contribution. The effect of our success has been to undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.”
McKeown summarizes this curious paradox by saying, “success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place.”
As a leader, have you ever fallen into the trap of “the undisciplined pursuit of more?” Have you ever led your team into that trap by assigning multiple priorities? Interestingly, as McKeown points out later in the chapter, the term priority wasn’t pluralized until 500 years into its existence. Only since the 20th century has the word priority been stretched into priorities to try to accommodate multiple objectives instead of one singular, critical goal.
Unfortunately without discipline, without a singular priority, leaders and organizations far too easily fall into the trap of pursuing too much. If you are in peril of falling into this trap, it is critical you take a step back, refocus, reprioritize, and commit to providing clarity and direction for your team and organization.
Pursuing greater success is an excellent and natural goal of all successful people, but don’t let “more” become “too much.” Avoid the trap of “the undisciplined pursuit of more!”
Copyright © 2014 by Dan Nielsen – www.dannielsen.com
National Institute for Healthcare Leadership – www.nihcl.com
America’s Healthcare Leaders – www.americashealthcareleaders.com