That’s the critical question in sustaining a long and fruitful career, or keeping a business at the heights of profitability.
Answering that question really boils down to this: Do you choose to go forward, or backward?
You may have noticed that “status quo” isn’t an option here. That’s because there’s no such thing in this context. Standing still is akin to going backwards.
And that puts you in the position of being a victim of your own success.
Coming to that realization is very important, because there are natural forces at work that put the status quo option in play. Even the term “success” has a sense of finality to it that works against you.
For example, say you finally got that big promotion that you coveted for years. It’s a logical feeling to put yourself on the very top of a mountain that you’ve painstakingly climbed, and want to stay there, enjoying the view with great contentment and satisfaction.
I can vividly remember my own first experience with the big title, and the big desk, and the personal assistant. It came way too early for me, and the gravitational pull towards inertia was very strong. I thought, “how could I do any better than this?” So while I certainly was learning some valuable lessons in that position, I really wasn’t trying to propel my career forward.
I failed to do one simple thing – move the mountain higher, and start climbing again. I finally did come to that realization years later, but not before some self-inflicted (and terribly unsatisfactory) stagnation.
Let’s look at a business example, like hitting an important business metric that has eluded a company for years. Once again, because of the effort necessary to achieve the milestone, there’s a strong temptation to ease off the accelerator (especially from the rank and file, who have toiled the most), at least for a short period.
Leaders must resist that temptation. I have learned that once milestones are hit, the mountain must be raised, as soon as possible. The company must keep climbing. In my personal experience, I’ve raised targets 3 and even 4 times during the course of a year, because of my hard-learned resistance to inertia.
The real trick here is to not diminish the significance of our (and our business) achievements – of course the efforts should be acknowledged and celebrated. We just need to convince ourselves, and then our teammates, that the climbs are ultimately more enjoyable than the summits.
Sir Winston Churchill said it best: “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb”