Not in the clamor of the crowded street,
Not in the Shouts and plaudits of the throng,
but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Perhaps the single worst ailment of human mind is to be intoxicated by power, pelf, and success. An Egyptian proverb says, “If the social order judges success by material gain, the most successful will be the most corruptible and selfish”. It is a proverb from antiquity, but fits best for our today’s societal set up.
Success intoxicates when left unsaddled. Intoxication is a state of excitement, euphoria, energy and mostly misplaced enthusiasm. In this state, one cannot expect any leader or manager to be taking decisions based on logic, rationality and its relative practicality. Since this disease has offshoots to induce a narcissist type behavior, the decision-making process, goes under the bridge of self-deception and hence gets expunged from reality of the situation. Logically speaking, intoxicated state of mind, qualifies a person to be declared “legally insane”.
Nothing succeeds as success, is an oft-quoted idiom. And there are several others that extol the virtuousness of this sense of success. But in reality, success breeds contempt, guile, vile, and intolerance and begins to exhibit after a long period of time. History and its blood soaked pages point out for inquiring minds, how the “successful” became “unsuccessful” through humans failings. While success is divine, failure is to be human.
Success is defined by each individual differently according to their own personal take and orientation. A million US dollars in the account to many, will account for success, but to some spending a like amount for ameliorating the sufferings of fellow humans, may constitute success. It all depends on how the mind has been trained, since the formative years, by parents, teachers, schools, college, universities, and from the standards of the society. If vulgar ambitions are contagious, trust me, nobility is even more infectious. How we fashion our society is within our control. To indicate, how society sets standards, I remind readers about, “amnesty”, “production orders”, “bail-before-arrest”, mockery of justice, etc. The list of “now acceptable” misdeeds is long! Personal orientation guides action. In the corporate world, we are guided in our definition of success by the straight-jacketed principle of “profit”. Whether you do an hour’s work or spend twenty four hours of sleeplessness, if it doesn’t translate into profits for the company; you are considered, a complete waste, a burden, a parasite and surely not a “successful” manager or supervisor.
To the entrepreneur, it is only the aroma of profit that smells the sweetest. No perfume of value or distinction on Champs Elysées smells better than “profit”. It is this quest where changes in behavior, particularly of the negative type start to breed, and if these create profits they multiply like the locusts and also devour similarly upon the market, to make windfall profits, with no remorse for defiling others interests. Success, by nature is selfish. In any rat race, what managers easily forget, is no winning rat has ever become a cat. They still, even with success, remain rats!
Once success is acquired, very few managers/leaders are able to keep their heart and mind in a state of naturally blessed emotional equilibrium and balance. Instead, most end up with corporate vertigo, the balance is out; the feet soar in the sky and the head is beyond the dizzying heights of cloud nine. This déjà vu feeling is invariably the first cause of bringing around change in behavioral traits of the entrepreneur, CEO, manager, supervisor, or anybody with any corporate jingoism of titles, who is only interested and whose only purpose is maximisation of profits.
The disabling trait of arrogance is the first acquisition made by success. It makes the head hoary. The achiever feels he is on Mount Everest and can look down upon anybody, anything...perched here most of his colleagues appear as despicable tiny crawling creatures, who are all looking up, for crumbs of support, from the leader on a pedestal; the one who is boasting of success. Here, begins the active persuasion of a beguiling mind that begins to insinuate and whisper to the manager, “I am the best”; “I did it”; “nobody else could do it”. The word, “I” starts to dominate in everyday vocabulary at the work place. The “We”, which actually may have been the proximate cause for success, is committed to the cemetery of forgotten words and concepts.
The fallout of arrogant attitude is the development of feelings that over time becomes oblivious, of the improper behavior and language that starts to seep in the conversation with colleagues and staff. Slowly, but surely, it becomes, in my view, without much knowledge to the successful manager, an integral part of his/her inner persona. No response to a solution from a colleague fails to register in the mind of the arrogant, as a deed of ignobility. The puffing pride that swells the cheeks, naturally close the eyes by the bulge and hence pride obscures, all failing attributes that germinate, blossom, and flourish-only sometimes unbeknownst to the possessor. As managers we must continually ask: is success the accomplishment of our overflowing bucket list or is it a conglomerate of several goals, aims, aspiration and even dreams? Henry Ford had once remarked, “To do more for the world than the world does for you -- that is success”.
Leaders, always indeed do attempt to view, what actions are transient success versus what constitutes perpetual success. One that is of immediate objective and upon its realisation it gives you a sense of success, for example, winning a car race, is a momentary success, for that day, for that moment; perpetual success is one where sustainability is lifelong for example educating the illiterate -this success lasts longer than our lives. The spirit for success is dependent upon missionary zeal…and so, we have the missionary schools that have outlived their architects, who work under the motto, “giving is success”.
A false sense of success, ultimately loads to isolation of the CEO, manager/leader. The person, who presumes success, firstly, becomes socially intolerable. Secondly, he/she only wishes to speak, refuses to listen. Thirdly, with a deadly impact, such managers have by then begun their journey down the garden path, where upon reaching the prejudice, they are left with no choice of re-treat and the only option is to jump off the cliff before others push them down into the sea of lost and forgotten leaders.
In success, one tends to merely receive compliments and appreciation of his/her merits; consequently over time one gets deprived of those enemies, from whom alone, it is possible to get to know the many lapses, defects, errors of judgment made, etc.
Success and heavy dosage of it, numbs the mind, to the extent that the manager begins to jettison habits of prudence, caution, humility, submission and restraint. Success can lead to rigidity and obstinacy in behaviour.
Success must be harnessed to make dismounting easy.
The writer is a senior banker & freelance columnist