Everyone likes to win. No matter how you define it or what it means in your context, winning is the goal. No one likes or wants to lose. Naturally, success would seem like an exclusively positive thing. It feels good to succeed, especially when the odds aren’t in your favor.
Last year I began the journey of leading the NextGen Student and Family Ministry at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. This church has an incredibly rich history and in many different seasons of time they’ve been one of the most forward-thinking, innovative churches in America. In the early part of the 20th century, they actually had a Sunday school of 10,000 people. They built a building to accommodate 3,800 people. That was unheard of at that time.
So naturally I expected that the task set before me would come with high expectations. In my first few weeks on-staff at FCC, everyone I talked to shared their perspective on what needed to change, how it should look, etc. Thanks to the wise and gifted leaders who had gone before me, we were positioned for great momentum and success from day one.
3 or 4 months in, we were quickly on the way to not only meeting but exceeding many expectations that had been set out at that point. Based on the metrics that most people use (namely the number of people in the room with a pulse), from the outside we looked healthy. But I and some others started to sense that there were problems. This immediate boost in a few key areas had, for a variety of reasons, caused our team to collectively ease off of the gas, lean back, and breathe a sigh of relief.
When I realized this, I also realized we were in serious danger. As I began to think and evaluate, I discovered three reasons success is more dangerous than failure for an organization or team.
1. Success makes you complacent. The greater the success, the greater the danger of this. When we succeed, we relax. We’re tempted to think the job is done because the expectation has been met. Others even encourage us to do this by complimenting our success or telling us we’ve done something great. And if we’re not careful in those moments, we slip into a coma of complacency that can haltmomentum in it’s tracks.
2. Success stalls vision. Even for natural leaders and great vision-casters, success can be an enemy. Often we invest countless hours, sleepless nights, long meetings, and lots of prayer into developing and crafting a vision that is compelling and that will carry us to the next level. Then as we begin to cast the vision to our teams or organizations, we lead the charge to begin to make the vision reality. We go all in and devote even more time and energy to reaching our goals. When we begin to see the goals we set be accomplished and the vision we’ve cast finally does begin to become reality, we are faced with a very important task. We must be ready to cast an even greater vision that will continue to move us forward. When success leads us to complacency, we foolishly think we can put vision-casting on hold and rest for a season. But the truth is, if we aren’t prepared to put a “next step” in front of our team or organization, we’re giving them an open door to check out once the first set of goals is reached. Then we find ourselves starting from square one to rebuild teams, re-energize people, re-cast the original vision, and move forward. It quickly makes things incredibly complicated.
3. Success feeds our egos. Even if you’re a naturally humble person, success in any form and on any level comes with a certain amount of temptation to take the credit. As a leader, this is a pivital moment. Especially for young leaders, learning how to handle success can make-or-break momentum and team chemistry. It’s a widely-known and accepted principle of leadership that we should accept blame and share credit. When things go wrong, we shouldn’t point fingers. If the buck stops on my desk, then untimately I should be willing to shield my team from the blame when things go wrong, and then handle any necessary correction and training internally. But when things go right, I should be quick to point to others as the source of the success. To do any less is to jeopardize my team. Success is gratifying and it’s so tempting to take the credit for ourselves. The more success we realize, the greater this temptation. We must be prepared for it to come so that it doesn’t derail our progress and destroy our team. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves alone and overwhelmed.
I’m sure there are many more reasons than these three that success can be more dangerous than failure. What would you add to this list? How has success been dangerous or destructive to you? How would you do things different knowing what you know now? What advice would you give to other leaders to help them avoid the mistakes you’ve made?