Success is about growth, not an obsession with perfection or fear of failure.
Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that’s more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum up to success. And then along comes The Great Resignation. Where employees are signaling that the “more” that’s being offered — even more pay, more perks, and more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We visited with leaders who are redefining what success means now. Their answers might surprise you.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Alan Patterson.
Dr. Alan Patterson is an organizational development consultant, specializing in executive and leadership development. Having led hundreds of clients for over four decades, Patterson continues to ignore standard coaching methods, instead opting to pursue and lead clients down the path of meaningful, rewarding, and successful careers. He’s worked with organizations from the Federal Reserve Bank to Hewlett Packard to Major League Baseball and the United States Navy.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Without a doubt the one experience that shaped where I am today was dropping out of medical school after six weeks. One of the first things we did when I arrived on campus was to take a tour of a large city hospital. When we went to the basement to view the morgue, the smell of formaldehyde and the possibility of seeing dead bodies did me in. This was followed by a gross anatomy exam some four weeks later. When I looked into the chest of a cadaver, I might as well be looking at an arial shot of the interstates surrounding Atlanta. Two weeks later, I packed up and I was gone. Over the next several years, I questioned whose expectations I would choose to shape my career — my own, or those of others, namely my parents. I moved in entirely non-linear direction to education, then training, professional development, consulting, and executive coaching.
We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
The biggest myth I have witnessed is the game of climbing the corporate ladder. It is a rigged system, where the top is seen by only a few. Women and people of color have lived with this myth — forever.
Another myth is that “a good job should speak for itself.” I believed it and realized that’s not how things work. I’ve convinced clients that a good job does not speak for itself.
A third myth is that long-term career success is measured by personal achievements. More accomplishments equals more money, promotions, status, and prestige. It is an ego-based view with you at the center of your universe engaged in a solo race to the top. Achieve and advance — until you don’t.
How has your definition of success changed?
Success is a pursuit, not an end point. It’s finding meaning and purpose by having the autonomy to do the type of work that brings you joy. It means engaging with interesting and interested people, doing something collectively that makes a mark on the world. These motivators come from within, far different and more rewarding than external motivators like pay and promotion.
The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post pandemic?
The tyranny of climbing the corporate ladder is that curiosity, discernment, discovery, and learning are engineered out of the success equation by focusing on getting results. We are a “doing” culture. We pride ourselves on getting the right answers. The new theme should be one of “discovery.” Employees want engaging work, which means organizations must reset their values and culture to discover what is important to the workforce. Capture that engagement, you’ll capture the market.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
- The biggest positive is that people slowed down to have a mental and emotional chance to breathe. I have a colleague who is excelling in her career and she has used the time to serve as a sounding board for the leadership team, rather than focus only on the business. What was thought to be impossible — like people working from home effectively — has rendered a Zoom world that is likely here to stay. This opens the door to other “what ifs.”
- People are more concerned about the welfare of others. Part of this is out of self-interest, of course. But I have seen neighbors and colleagues engage in an on-going conversation of “how is everybody,” where this was less of an issue before.
- For many, the pandemic has brought into focus of what makes work “worth it.” According to Gallup research, there is a generation entering the workforce expecting work-life balance and engaging work. The “take it or leave it” approach to the nature of work is changing for the better, and I see that as a good thing.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”
Five Ways to Redefine Success Now
- Success is liberating one’s internal motivation.
When people follow what’s critical and important to them, they free themselves from the judgements of others and the measurement of money, titles, and status to determine their value. I have a colleague who made a career change by moving into her own business. She loved what she did before, but she enjoys what’s she’s doing now more. It’s riskier but more personally motivating.
2. Success is based on building relationships, not personal achievements.
What people value in you in not just that you’re knowledgeable and competent. They remember how you treat them, how you acknowledge and respect them. You are credible and trustworthy. They know that when you commit, you deliver. I have a client who quickly rose from the engineering ranks to become a member of the executive team of a successful biotech company before the age of 40. He can put on a clinic about how to build relationships with anyone. He tells a great story about a colleague who one day asked him, “When do you find time to get your work done? You’re always talking and meeting with other people.” He saw that as a complement.
3. Success does not follow a straight path.
Some of the most interesting and committed individuals I know have career paths more curvaceous than Lombard Street in San Francisco. One thing they share is this thing about chance and luck — “I just happened to meet,” or “This was pure luck,” or “It was serendipitous.” Don’t believe it. They put themselves out there because they believe in luck and serendipity, just waiting to engage it.
4. Success is about growth, not an obsession with perfection or fear of failure.
A person with a growth mindset creates a landscape for learning. They don’t dwell on perfection or failure. Rather, they create landscapes for learning and exploration. They are curious and creative. A client I worked with several years ago was a masterful storyteller. He talked about work situations like he had to study and understand them, like they were lab experiments or case studies. The fact that he had a great Boston accent and salty language made the retelling of his experiences impactful, and often humorous.
5. Success happens when you own your career development.
Success happens when you create the context for what you do and find people with unique interests who give a damn and want to share in something bigger than each of you. Taking control can be as small as asking for a meeting with your manager to clarify expectations and find out their definition for success. A scientist takes it upon herself to build relationships — not solve problems — with people in the critical path of her job, influencers in the organization, and people who could help in her career advancement. A talented and committed engineer works in different departments to learn more about the business. His new boss calls him out for not doing his job. The engineer will be gone in two weeks, choosing to work with a group who appreciates him rather than work for an autocrat. I predict the boss will be fired in another six weeks since two people have already quit.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
People are more engaged when they liberate what is truly motivating to them. Engagement is an individual, not an organizational responsibility. Right now, businesses are scrambling to hire and retain talent. Gallup reports that only 35% of employees are engaged at work. When more individuals in the workforce take ownership for engagement and work with their organizations to create meaningful work, think what could happen if engagement increased by 5%? 10%? 15%?
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
Employees have undergone decades of education and work experience believing it’s the organization’s responsibility to motivate them. I say it is the individual’s responsibility. Nobody owes you anything. Organizations don’t motivate people. People motivate people. Some organizations are looking at their cultures to create individual feelings of success. More are throwing around money and perks, which do not have a lasting impact, especially when someone down the street is offering more. Organizations must train managers to be leaders, and leaders to become great coaches.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
Inspiration — Deepak Chopra. He nails success.
Information — Inc Magazine, Deloitte, McKinsey
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.
Daniel Pink. A right brain writer with left brain instincts, he uses the perspective of everyday events to affirm how creative thinking, intrinsic motivation, or selling one’s ideas create greater impact and meaning in our lives.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.
About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.