“The connections of success tend to feed into your ego
and you isolate yourself from common human existence.”
Dr John Ng
“Everything is built to reinforce the ego of the CEO. The wallet full of platinum cards, the ‘other’ entrance to the building. Everything implies you’re more important than everyone else. You get to believe it.”
Tom Jones, former CEO of Epsilon
Success is a two-edged sword. Everyone wants to be successful. Everyone yearns to be successful. Everyone applauds success and successful people. Yet, there is a dark side to success.
1. Success Breeds Infallibility
Success after success can breed a false sense of infallibility. You become larger than life.
Success is a good servant but a bad master. You attract followers who enjoy your success and flatter the successful you. You begin to believe in your own propaganda. You behave almost god-like. Worse still, our successes can make us arrogant. But arrogance leads to blind spots and blind spots will lead to blindness. The process is frightening — first, we assume that we can do no wrong. If we do fail, we think it is an aberration. Second, we become less and less open to feedback. Third, we react negatively and defensively when people give us feedback. Fourth, others stop giving us feedback. We build u our weaknesses gradually until they lead to our downfall.
Our ‘house of cards’ is not built in a day. Best-selling business author Jim Collins has written about the crisis of business ethics in the wake of the bankruptcies at Enron and WorldCom. He describes how some business people went wrong:
Some business executives were a part of the malleable masses. These were people who, in the presence of an opportunity to behave differently, got drawn into it, one step after another. If you told them 10 years ahead of time, “Hey, let’s cook the books and all get rich,” they would never go along with it. But that’s rarely how most people get drawn into activities that they later regret.
When you are at step A, it feels inconceivable to jump all the way to step Z, if step Z involves something that is a total breach of your values. But if you go from step A to step B, then step B to step C, then step C to step D… then someday, you wake up and discover that you are at step Y, and the move to step Z comes about much easier.
2. Success has High-Powered Connections
No one will dispute that in today’s business environment, we need connections. Cultivating this kind of connection is both necessary and dangerous because it places you in touch with the world of perks and privileges. With this comes status and connections. With it also comes a belief that normal rules don’t apply to you; you are not subject to any regulations, and act without any checks or balances.
Connections can also make you selective about who you talk to and who you spend time with. Because time is money. As one businessperson suggests, “I attend the right functions to make the right connections to get the right deals.” The right cocktail parties become important. You want to be seen in the right crowd. If they are of a certain status, they might help you. Otherwise, no status, no access.
These connections of success tend to feed into your ego and you isolate yourself from what is now seen as common human existence. You belong to the avant garde rather than the hoi polloi. Subsequently, you lose touch with the realities of the common. You forget your roots.
3. Success Makes You Egoistic
This is the dilemma of leadership. Having an ego is important as it builds self confidence. Being egoistic is a different matter. Success both builds your ego and can make you egoistic. As former Harvard professor Laura Nash explains, “A person needs a certain amount of ego, or self-confidence, in order to have the stability, decisiveness, ambition and independence of mind to be an effectiv leader… So the problem with ego is not with having an ego but with losing one’s proper perspective.”
Ego has many bright sides: It brings drive, it gives excitement and it provides a sense of satisfaction when things go well.
It has many dark sides as well: It needs to be massaged; it makes us feel that we are bigger than we are, and finally, it leads to self-aggrandizement and pride.
Tom Jones, former CEO of Epsilon, puts it insightfully, “Everything is built to reinforce the ego of the CEO. The wallet full of platinum cards, the ‘other’ entrance to the building. Everything implies you’re more important than everyone else. You get to believe it.”
Our identity is often wrapped up in our vocation and our work is measured in monetary terms so that success in our career boosts our ego and failure deflates it.
We lose perspective when you develop a hyper-inflated self and a deflated regard of others and their contributions.
What has success in your life taught you, positively or negatively?
There are more ways you can be trapped in the subtlety of success. I uncover more ways in my latest book, Unleashing the Greatness in You. There, I also share some of my insightful experiences to help you unleash your greatness through the power of self-leadership. Go ahead and get yours today!