Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

What Does Success Really Look Like?

Discovering what success looks like

A few weeks ago, I shared with my various networks an article from Forbes on the ten resolutions successful people not only make but carry out. While the list provided some valuable points, what was more noteworthy was the discussions this piece generated with a few of my colleagues about the nature of success.

These conversations revealed an interesting paradox. Namely, that while we have no problems identifying successful organizations or individuals, we have a harder time defining what a successful version of our own organization would look like.

Granted, most of us are rather effective at developing strategies and goal-setting. And yet, how many of us have a clear definition or vision of what a successful version of our team/organization would look like? What would it take for us to feel successful in the long run beyond simply achieving our goals or targets?

Here are a series of questions you can use to start a dialogue with your team to help figure this out:

1. How does this fit in with our organization’s values?
One of the reasons why we have a harder time defining success is because many of us are still operating from a reactive standpoint – where our decisions and actions act only in response to what we see our competition doing or as a result of what we encounter or experience.

Another reason is that most discussions on successful organizations or individuals focus more on the various steps and actions they took to achieve the goals for which they are now lauded, without appreciating the context behind why they were compelled to attain these outcomes.

In both cases, one key element that we fail to take into consideration is our values; of those attitudes and beliefs that not only define what we stand for, but which also serves as our moral and ethical compass to help us determine which actions would allow us to attain our goals with integrity.

Achieving success in the long run requires a mindfulness in ensuring that the goals or targets you set forth don’t conflict with the values and shared purpose of your organization. To do otherwise will not only impact the level of engagement your employees commit to this effort, but it can also damage the level of trust they have in your direction and vision.

2. How will this help us to move forward with our shared purpose?
In addition to your values, another factor that should define what success looks like for your organization is how it connects to your shared purpose.

When it comes to success in business, it’s easy to focus on obvious measures like profitability, how much of a market share we’ve accrued, and whether we get our products/services out within or under the expected timeframe.

While these are critical for any business, it’s important to remember that these are merely the desired outcomes from your efforts. What’s required instead is the context of how it helps your organization to move one step closer to achieving your shared purpose, if you want to instill that sense of success often associated with those organizations and individuals we all respect and admire.

Framing these outcomes within the context of your shared purpose is also critical to fostering both a sense of ownership in your employees for their collective efforts as well as a sense of accountability for the outcomes created from those contributions.

This is what will allow your organization’s success to move beyond being something that benefits a select few to including everyone in your organization – because if they’re all committed to your shared purpose, moving one step closer to that goal becomes a success that everyone can enjoy and appreciate.

3. Why will this success matter?
This leads us to the final question and that is once you’ve ascertained whether this success honours your organization’s values and helps you move one step closer to your shared purpose, why will this success matter? After the accolades, attention and congratulations are gone, why will this matter to those you lead?

What will it create or instill in your employees to generate further momentum to keep at it? To fuel their resolve to achieve more or to surpass their present achievement?

For success to matter, it needs to go beyond the pragmatic measures of profitability, market share and so forth to connect to what matters to those you lead. It means that what we define as success is not only specific and tangible, but personal so that your employees will see it as being as much their success as it is your organization’s success.

In this way, your employees won’t simply feel successful by association. Instead, your collective success will also be viewed as their own personal success as well.

Success should also be something that’s not transitory, as is the case with most external metrics. Rather, success should also serve to inspire, empower and sustain the belief your employees have not just in your shared purpose, but in their collective abilities to do and be better.

These three questions can serve to not only encourage a dialogue about what success would look like for your organization, but they can also open up the conversation to discuss the nature and meaning behind your organization.

The simplicity of these questions also ensures that you don’t get bogged down in processes or methodologies, but focus instead on what ideas, insights and assumptions arise from the conversation.

For that reason, don’t feel concerned if the answers are not apparent or that they require much thought, deliberation and discussion with your team to discover the appropriate response.

The number one difference between a Nobel prize winner and others is not IQ or work ethic, but that they ask bigger questions. – Peter Drucker

Remember, that to be effective as a leader doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers. Rather, it means having the ability to ask the big questions – questions that encourage your employees to question their assumptions, that transform obstacles into challenges that can be overcome, and that enable your employees to believe in your shared purpose and their ability to achieve it.

So what does success really look like? As the questions above illustrate, that all depends on what you want to accomplish and in particular, why that goal matters to your shared purpose and to the internal drive for meaning found within your employees.

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  1. On January 22nd, 2013 at 12:37 PM Scott Mabry said:

    Great questions and guiding principles to help focus the organization on what matters most. Thanks for sharing.

  2. On January 22nd, 2013 at 3:00 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    My pleasure, Scott; glad you enjoyed it.

  3. On January 22nd, 2013 at 2:08 PM Dorothy Dalton said:

    Great post Tanveer – thanks! To ask the big questions, leaders also have to be big listeners as well I have observed!

  4. On January 22nd, 2013 at 3:19 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Absolutely, Dorothy. Great point. As can be seen with these questions, what makes something a big question is when it's not being asked to confirm what you already know, but to reveal what you don't.

    In other words, they should help you discover how others perceive your collective reality and what really matters to them as opposed to what you think matters to them.

    In that light, it becomes clearer why leaders need to be big listeners because such questions can reveal a treasure trove of insights that can help your organization move forward.

    Again, great point, Dorothy. Thanks for adding it to the conversation.

  5. On January 22nd, 2013 at 9:44 PM AbdKareem said:

    An excellent articulation of 'What Success Looks Like.' Tanveer highlights the importance of the need to look at the context. How an organization adapts, makes choices and shapes its environment is an often an ignored point while we admire and celebrate success.

  6. On January 27th, 2013 at 11:59 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks AbdKareem; I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.

  7. On January 24th, 2013 at 9:25 AM Bronia said:

    Strangely enough Tanveer I blogged recently on the meaning of success for an individual, after attending a seminar where the speaker spent most of the time telling us how to achieve her version of success. Interestingly you and I have come to the same conclusion even though I was discussing from an individual's point of view and you are considering it as an organisation – that success will look different depending on your values and purpose in life. Aristotle had it right when he said that all people strive for happiness – what makes us happy is different for each individual.

  8. On January 27th, 2013 at 12:08 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Absolutely, Bronia. Unfortunately, many of us haven't articulated or defined it for ourselves which is why speakers like the one you heard end up sharing their vision of what success looks like as though it were a universal one.

  9. On January 24th, 2013 at 10:20 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Tanveer: I always believe success is measured by the memories you create. If leaders follow your pragmatic steps, celebrate, create lasting memories, build on the memories…….

  10. On January 27th, 2013 at 12:10 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Jim for sharing your view of what success looks like. I love how our sharing our ideas of success serves to illustrate and remind how dynamic and personal success really is.

  11. On February 13th, 2013 at 9:54 PM Karen Counts said:

    This was a great article, extremely motivating. I particularly liked this, "Remember, that to be effective as a leader doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers. Rather, it means having the ability to ask the big questions – questions that encourage your employees to question their assumptions, that transform obstacles into challenges that can be overcome, and that enable your employees to believe in your shared purpose and their ability to achieve it." – so true and yet so difficult to embed into my brain! This needs to be a daily mantra!

    This post really reminded me of a book I just read, "Green Beans & Ice Cream" by author Bill Sims Jr. (http://greenbeanleadership.com/) This book also clearly points out that the thing we need the most, is the thing we often receive the least—positive reinforcement and feedback from those around us. This is true on a leadership level, with family, friends and even with your spouse. The theme of positive reinforcement plays a main role in this book and it stresses that as a leader we must constantly be improving how individuals feel about themselves, the work they’re doing and the results they’re achieving. It is very important to me give and receive positive reinforcement every day, for the simple fact that I have a strong desire to perform my duties better. Hope you give it a read!!

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