How success can make you stupid

Success is not permanent. What makes it so slippery?

Warren Buffet once observed, “A fat wallet is the enemy of superior investment results.”

The fatness of that wallet tends to produce hubris in the investor, and it’s no different in other areas of life.

Success is seductive and sedative. It can quietly rob you of humility and vigilance. It can breed arrogance, insensitivity, and willful blindness. You start to see yourself and your business with unwarranted optimism …

And our society doesn’t necessarily help. As Edgar Schein observes in his book, Humble Inquiry, “Our culture emphasizes that leaders must be wiser, set direction, and articulate values, all of which predisposes them to tell rather ask.”

In the high-velocity environment of the 21st century, success can simply get you into trouble faster.

As a form of confirming evidence, success says you know what you’re doing. It beguiles us into believing that we can simply replicate the success of the past.

I see this with our clients more than I’d like to. And what’s even more dangerous than success is sustained success. The longer the track record of success, the thicker the complacency, the narrower the mindset, the more unfounded the confidence in future success.

The organizational psychologist, Karl Weick, made a penetrating observation of this principle:

“Success narrows perceptions, change attitudes, feeds confidence in a single way of doing business, breeds overconfidence in the efficacy of current abilities and practices, and makes leaders and others intolerant of opposing points of view.”

Success makes us less open to feedback, dis-confirming evidence, and alternative points of view. Our ego defenses get in the way. We start stumbling over ourselves. We get stupid.

The last fateful step is that we begin to suffer from isolation, and as the theologian Neal A. Maxwell once put it, “Isolation is such a poor friend.”

I know a leader who is surrounded by capable people and yet suffering from isolation. His people have stopped giving him counsel when it was no longer appreciated.

What can you do? Start by asking yourself some penetrating questions:

  • Do I solicit honest and unedited feedback?
  • Do I respect only high achievers or do I recognize that insight and answers can come from some of the most unlikely people?
  • Am I emotionally advanced beyond needing to hear myself talk?
  • Do I let people debate issues on their merits?
  • Do I give people permission to challenge me?
  • Am I as curious as I used to be?
  • Do I ask as many questions as I used to ask?
  • Am I more cynical or sarcastic?
  • Am I open, honest, and humble?
  • Do I value the opinions of those who have no power or position?
  • Do I listen with the intent to comprehend?

Source: How Success Can Make You Stupid | Timothy R. Clark | LinkedIn

Timothy R. Clark

Co-founder at BlueEQ
Timothy R. Clark, an Advantage thought leader partner,  is founder and managing partner at LeaderFactor, as well as co-founder and co-creator of BlueEQ™, the emotional intelligence self-assessment.

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