Searching For The Formula For Success

One of my favorite questions to ask my clients is “what is success?” Typically, there is a pause and then the tap dance ensues.

We all strive for it. There are personal and societal definitions of success. However, there is often a gap between what we think is acceptable to say, our own definition and our innermost wants and needs. This gap is the music of the tap dance.

*Please join us Friday, September 21st at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT for the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz as we discuss “Why Doesn’t Everybody Have Effective Teamwork”. Not sure how to participate? Please click here for tips and advice.

Success has many meanings

For so many, fame and fortune is how they define success. American Idol and Eurovision wouldn’t be so popular without this desire. For some entrepreneurs, success is having their startup acquired by a larger organization. Some people aspire to leave a legacy to their families and communities or long-standing positive relationship with friends and family. The meanings may overlap and include other values we espouse.

Definitions of success may depend on motivation

Paul PIntrich in 2000 wrote an analytical commentary on motivation terminology, theory and research that pointed out that there are several possibilities as to why people set and achieve goals. He writes from the perspective of Goal Theory which states that a student (for purposes of this post, this doesn’t have be exclusively academic) wishes to learn. They include:

  • conscious thoughts that become labeled as goals
  • approach and avoidant behaviors play a role in goal selection and achievement
  • the possibility that there may be some influence from the environment
  • an individual’s idiosyncratic way of interacting with the world.

Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets is consistent with achievement being dependent on a individual’s idiosyncrasies. She explains that there are two mindsets that influence how successful a person becomes. The first – fixed – is the mindset that traits, ability and behavior are immutable. For example, you are as smart as you are ever going to be. The second – growth – holds that traits, ability and behavior can be learned and improved. Intelligence and self-development use a continuous process involving commitment and practice.

Seeking out the “right” formula

Even if you just brush the surface of what is available in the professional development industry, you find a multitude of systems and recommendations. I did a quick search on Google and found over 900 million results. Interestingly, the majority seem to focus on traits, an individual’s idiosyncrasies. For brevity, I will only focus on a two examples.

Steven Covey-7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I could have started with Napoleon Hill or Dale Carnegie but Steven Covey has developed phrases that people use everyday. Covey’s premise is that the individual can take what is already present (traits and behavior) and enhance or adapt these into the best version of yourself.

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win-win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Syngergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

Richard St. John-The 8 Traits Successful People Have In Common: 8 To Be Great

Richard St. John clearly falls into the idea that goal achievement is based on an individual’s idiosyncratic way of interacting with the world. He interviewed 500 people and analyzed what they exhibited that supported their success. St. John uses his own experience of success-failure-return to success as illustrations of these traits (you can find a 3 minute TED talk here). He lists 8 traits:

  1. Passion
  2. Work
  3. Focus
  4. Push
  5. Ideas
  6. Improve
  7. Serve
  8.  Persist

His model is a repeatable cycle and not a one-way path. This acknowledges that success can be a series of moving forwards and backwards.

While these two examples are not the total of all that is out there, they have commonalities with many other models.

Success is seldom a simple trajectory

In a way, many of us are inventors of our lives. We seek out new experiences and information and test to see how they fit. Failure often accompanies success. We want to know what, why and how to achieve.

Discussion Questions:

What is it within us that makes us strive for something beyond everyday existence?

In US, “manifest destiny” still influences thought, how is success sought after in other cultures?

Success models imply ethics. In business, why does the drive for success often disconnect from ethics?

Why is there a disconnect between what we say is our definition of success vs what we really desire?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.



Why Doesn’t Everybody Have Effective Teamwork?

Coming together is a beginning.

Keeping together is progress.

Working together is success.

~Henry Ford

Obstacles for successful teamsBuilding and maintaining a team that functions well is a quest that many companies are on. Collaboration is such a buzz word lately and truly teams must collaborate if they are going to be successful. So why is there such mystery about developing a well-functioning team? Clearly there is a disconnect between theory and how teams function in real life.

*Please join us Friday, September 21st at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT for the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz as we discuss “Why Doesn’t Everybody Have Effective Teamwork”. Not sure how to participate? Please click here for tips and advice. Continue reading


The Role Of Follower in Leadership

During our #KaizenBiz chat last week, Miriam Ahern tweeted that “…it would be a big mistake to assume your most influential leaders are at top of  hierarchy [sic]” This was a brief side thread. The gist was that while the nominal leader may be the one with the title president, CEO or managing director, true authority and leadership may lie elsewhere. Typically, the obvious top of the hierarchy is followed by everyone else. This got me wondering about the role of the follower. Continue reading


Is Leadership Harder Now Than Ever?

It might be said that leadership was easy once upon a time. You told someone to do something and it was done. Of course that works better if you’re medieval royalty and there is fealty involved. Or maybe we think our leaders should be some sort of archetypal hero who will save the day.

The obvious scandals of  Lehman Brothers, LIBOR or the News Corp phone hacking  undermine authority. But it isn’t just the public scandals that are eroding our understanding of leadership. Continue reading