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The Indisputable Definition of Success––How to get it…and how leaders can help others get some too!

Let’s start with the definition. I’m not an arrogant person, but on this subject I am absolutely certain I’ve got it right. After my explanation, I’ll welcome any arguments…

People like to argue with me over my assertion that I’ve found an indisputable definition for success. Many of them say that success is subjective––that it means different things to different people.

I could never accept that premise. Why would we work so hard and commit entire lifetimes to attaining something that is completely indefinable? I could never make sense of that. So––I spent what most would consider way too much time thinking about it, studying models of success and most important, people who consider themselves successful.

Here’s what I came up with…

Success is the product of abundance. Success is nothing more than having “enough” in 3 major areas of life: Material, Emotional and Spiritual.

When you have “enough,” you feel successful. When you are lacking in any area, you don’t.

It’s that simple. As with most of the things we talk about––not always easy.


Very quickly, the “Material” part is the most simple. Here we’re talking about tangible assets. Money and things are obvious, but you should also include your measurable talents and skills. You might also add social capital in the form of favors and such.


Emotional resources are a little harder to account for, but they’re still fairly tangible and can be measured. This includes your support network––friends, family, mentors and peers. You might also include a boss who shows a sincere interest in your success.


The most difficult are your Spiritual resources. I’m not talking about religion––though you might be and if so, you would count a strong religious belief as a Spiritual asset. Regardless of your level of religious devotion or belief, or lack thereof, Spirituality in this context means your acknowledgement that you are part of something greater than yourself. Include here your sense of moral or ethical commitment, your feelings of belonging to a community or sense of connection to nature or humanity as a whole.

Other Spiritual assets might be your sense of purpose or belief that your life and your actions have genuine meaning and value.

What do think? Do you agree? Or not?

Here are the arguments I hear most often…

First, just the fact that it still is subjective. I believe I acknowledge that fact. I make no claims to know how much, exactly, is “enough” for anyone but myself. And it’s hard enough to decide that for myself a lot of the time!

Second, that my definition is simply a “self-perception,” that anyone, by this definition can “feel” successful anytime they want, regardless of their circumstances.

Well, to a degree, yes. It is up to you to determine how much abundance you need in each area. However, I would also argue that no matter how much you have, if you feel a sense of scarcity or wanting in any one of these areas it is very difficult to feel completely successful.

Finally and extending on the self-perception argument, some people argue that you need an arbiter to determine whether or not you’re successful, or at least some empirical standard by which to measure success.

That first assumption is defeated by the simple truth that many people who others consider highly successful are in fact––miserable! Others may hail your successes while you feel like an abject failure.

As far as an empirical standard, even in the most quantifiable area, that being Material, where is this magical standard? The plain truth is that at any given time and place you can find people living in what you might consider primitive or impoverished conditions who enjoy an amazing status of wealth and success within their community or group. And you can certainly find people who by any agreed standard, such as the universally recognizes super rich in the “Top 1%” group who still do not feel satisfied or successful.

Now let’s bring this discussion back down to earth…

What good is all this philosophical musing and semantic gymnastics if you can't put it to work?

What’s in it for you?

First of all, your feeling of success is not optional. It’s an essential ingredient to make a happy and productive life.

Your feelings of success are inseparably tied to your genuine sense of confidence. And your confidence is in turn one of the greatest determinants of your productivity––which increases your value to others and finally sustains and expands your feeling of success.

In short––people who feel more abundance are more sure of their own capability to perform effectively and produce meaningful outcomes. The reward is an increase in abundance and a greater feeling of success…

Most of the time! There are set-backs from time to time! For today, however, let’s just stay focused on the upside.

Since people are more productive when they feel successful and confident, it should be obvious that whenever you help others succeed, they will in turn contribute to your success as a leader.

It should be obvious, but apparently still isn’t. This is why we still spend millions of dollars and countless hours every year doing research that only prove the same common sensical point:

The most successful leaders are those committed to the success of the people they serve.

Or put another way, a leader is only as successful as the people he or she serves.

So how, exactly, do you do it? Well, that’s where the negotiation starts––and it’s completely up to you.

In the Material area, it’s relatively simple. Pay incentives and bonuses do still work––to some extent. Just remember that people’s material priorities can vary widely across various demographics.

Still working in the Material, a Millennial generation employee may value flex time or cyber-commuting options over an increase in pay. Women may place greater emphasis on maternity leave than more salary or executive perks.

Also in the Material area you should include what tangible opportunities you offer people to learn, grow and develop.

  • What training are you willing to provide to increase skills?

  • Can you offer scholarships and time off for furthering college educations?

  • Do you send people to seminars and workshops for personal and professional development?

In the Emotional area, you’ve got to make concrete decisions about exactly what you’re willing to do to support the people you serve…

  • Are you generous with encouragement?

  • Are you supportive of personal issues?

  • How well do you manage interpersonal relationships and conflicts?

  • Are you a skillful communicator?

And that last one is huge! How many times have you witnessed emotional meltdowns and a loss of productivity resulting from bad communication? (Or from no communication at all?!)

The Spiritual area, ironically, can provide an opportunity for a leader to transpose an intangible such as a thought or idea to a very tangible expression in the form of inspiration. The tool is a clearly expressed “vision.”

  • Are you living, expressing and communicating a vision of a higher purpose or calling?

  • Are you able to rally people around the idea that together you are accomplishing much more than any individual?

  • Do the people you serve feel that you genuinely appreciate and value them?

We could keep going, and believe me even in our half-day workshops we can get into this in incredible detail.

The key is to keep this idea of success in mind at all times. Give it it’s proper priority––and because you’re a leader––be sure to prioritize the success of the people you serve. You are the sum of their parts! Now if you still doubt the importance and power of helping others achieve success, just think about it this way:

How important is success to you?

Don’t you think it’s just as important to the people you serve?


This topic is also featured in an episode of SENSEI LEADER Live!

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