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Beware the 3 deadly P’s of success


Joel Dobbs.GIFBy Joel Dobbs


(Joel H. Dobbs is the CEO and President of The Compass Talent Management Group LLC (CTMG), a consulting firm that assists organizations with the identification and development of key talent and with designing organizational strategies and structures to maximize their ability to compete in the business worlds of today and tomorrow. He is also an executive coach and serves as Executive in Residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business.  Joel is also a popular and frequent contributor to the Executive CIO Forum where a version of this article was first published.)

You are never closer to your greatest failure than when you are at the moment of your greatest success. –Craig Winn
This quote, from a Businessweek article in 2000, is perhaps one of the best pieces of business wisdom. Success is as addictive as an opiate and potentially just as dangerous.

H. Ross Perot once said, “Something in human nature causes us to start slacking off at our moment of greatest accomplishment. As you become successful, you will need a great deal of self-discipline not to lose your sense of balance, humility, and commitment.”  Great leaders stay great because they stay focused on what is important and don’t fall into the traps that ensnare many.  Success can breed arrogance, over-confidence and the false belief that we are invincible. We’re not.

The 3 deadly P’s of success
I believe that, if we let it, success will seduce many of us in three areas of weakness.  I call these the three deadly P’s.

Pace. Success is usually associated with activity.  Everyone wants time with you.  You are constantly invited to meetings, dinners, and speaking engagements. You serve on boards or advisory committees. You are busy, real busy. We associate busyness with importance. This kind of activity not only gives many of us an inflated opinion of our importance; it is literally addicting. The constant activity and the adrenaline rush that goes with it produces a sort of high that makes it almost impossible to shut down.  We neglect family and friends.  We may neglect our health and we may become so concerned with the activity that we lose sight of our purpose. We let the urgent drive out the important. Social events, outside board meetings and charity fundraisers consume time that should be devoted to the hard work of leading an organization. We take our eyes off of the ball and problems blow up in our face.

Power. One of the first lessons I learned in my first role in executive leadership was to be very careful what you ask people to do. They will do it! Simply thinking out loud in a meeting could result in the formation of a project team and the appropriation of resources. Realizing that you have power over others can bring out the best in you, or it can bring out the worst.  Abraham Lincoln observed, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” How you handle power is the supreme test of character. For many people power becomes the prime motivator in their work.  We certainly see this with dictators and politicians but we also see this with many successful executives.  I know a CEO who lost his job because of some ethical transgressions several years ago.  He had plenty of money so he didn’t need to work for financial reasons but he confided that the loss of his position and its power was almost more than he could bear.

Perks. Perquisites, commonly known as “Perks,” are defined as “A thing regarded as a special right or privilege enjoyed as a result of one's position.” These include company cars, first-class travel, use of corporate aircraft and special club memberships. The big danger is when we begin to believe that we are entitled to these things, that they are ours and that we can use them as we please.  Abuses of expense accounts, corporate aircraft and assorted other benefits are all too common.
Each of the three P’s has the potential to distract a leader from their primary responsibilities. With authority comes responsibility. Our job is on loan to us from our employer. We are stewards, not owners.  

Other guest posts by Joel Dobbs:
•    Joel’s post on 6 steps to become a strategic thinker
•    Joel's post on Homework for the successful IT leader
•    Joel's post on 4 competencies every CIO must master
•    Joel’s post on What leading CIOs think tomorrow’s IT leaders will look like
•    Joel’s post on 5 ways to improve your executive relationships

Related links:
•    5 ways to motivate people for higher performance
•    Discover Performance for IT Leaders
•    A VP of Ops on how to say yes to innovation
•    A novel approach to IT excellence

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