How Do You Define Success?

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I’m writing this from an airport lounge, which is where I (and many of my fellow motivational speakers) spend an inordinate amount of time. There’s a TV on in the background (there’s always a TV on in the background), and I just heard the words “How do you define success?” I don’t know the context—probably a commercial for some erectile dysfunction drug (in which case, I would think that defining success would be self-evident). But it’s actually a pretty good question.

How do you define success?

Now, obviously we could go into “big picture” thinking here. How do you define success in your career, your relationship, your life? These are all good questions, and certainly worth exploring in future articles.

But today I want to think small.

Not small in the sense of limited possibilities. Small in the sense of tightening your focus. Small in the sense of taking it down to project level.

As a leader, you are responsible for, among other things, bringing projects to successful conclusions. You’re responsible for producing successful results.

But what does that success look like? What specific measures will you use to determine whether you’ve achieved that success?

When I was producing my sketch comedy TV show Almost Live!, there were several measures of success I could use:

  • Was the studio audience fully booked? (Yes, every week for 15 years!)
  • Did the studio audience laugh at the jokes? (Mostly yes; sometimes no.)
  • Was it a good show? (Mostly yes; sometimes no.)

Ultimately, though, there were two measures of success that trumped all the others:

  • How did we do in the ratings?
  • Are we bringing in a profit?

No matter how much the audience laughed, and no matter how good we may have thought the show was, if we sucked in the ratings and stopped making a profit, we wouldn’t have stayed on the air.

As a leader, it was my responsibility to understand what success really meant for my TV show. I had to know what was being measured, and what measurement thresholds constituted success.

[Tweet “You’re a leader. Before you undertake a project, you need to define what will constitute success.”] You’re a leader. Before you undertake a project, you need to define for yourself what will constitute success for the project. Is it a certain market share? A particular amount of money earned? A specific customer response rate?

I’ve seen it all too often. You’ve probably seen it yourself. A leader merrily embarks on a new project without defining in advance what success means for that project. And so it’s like shooting an arrow but not having a target: you expend the effort and go the distance, but you have no idea whether or not you’ve arrived.

And neither does your team.

Not very motivating, is it?

By defining success, not only will you and your team know where you’re going, you’ll also know how close you are every step of the way.

So, think about your next project. And then, with that project in mind, think about this question:

How do you define success?


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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