WARNING! Nothing “Recedes Like Success”

There’s a story that’s told about a sign that hung in the office of the late Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s. It read, “Nothing Recedes Like Success.” The reason he had it hanging in his office was to serve as a constant reminder to himself about how fleeting success can be.

And it’s true. One of the greatest threats to our future success in the cleaning industry can be our past successes. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should avoid success in an attempt to avoid failure. It simply means that we should view our past successes for what they are — incremental stepping stones where we learn lessons that will help us achieve future successes.

We as cleaning and restoration professionals get in trouble when we fall into the traps of our previous successes. Morgan McCall Jr., former Senior Behavioral Scientist with the Center for Creative Leadership, talks about two of these success traps.

The first is ADMIRING OUR TROPHY CASE. In this trap, we find ourselves sitting back and admiring our past successes. This may be entertaining, and it may fill us with a sense of accomplishment, but it doesn’t prepare us for the future. Trophies come in all shapes and sizes. They can be a new account we just landed, finding a talented new employee, or simply turning a profit. They can also be the car, the boat, or the new building. And the bigger and shinier the trophies are, the more likely we are to be blinded by their glare. Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to focus on trophies when we’re on the move? So, as we stand in place admiring our past successes, we find that our forward progress stalls. And as soon as our forward progress stalls, we lose ground to our competitors and to our own worthy goals.

The second trap is BELIEVING OUR OWN PRESS CLIPPINGS. Many a world leader and company CEO has gotten himself in trouble with this one. When enough people tell us how successful we are, and hold us up as an example for others to emulate, it’s easy to start believing that we stand above mere mortals. Press clippings don’t have to be limited to newspapers. They can be as simple as flattering comments from colleagues or industry opinion leaders, or even repeated superior performances on our financial statements. If we’re not careful, we can lose our way. Sometimes we stop paying attention to, and stop doing, the things that contributed to our success in the first place. Pretty soon, we’ll find that a steady diet of this has weakened our mental immune system, and our future successes have become threatened by the virus of arrogance.

Obviously we as cleaners and restorers want to celebrate our successes. And we should, we work hard and deserve congratulations. But as we’re enjoying our moment in the sun, we want to make sure that our feet are planted firmly on the ground, and that we’re learning the practical lessons our successes teach us. This way, we can use these lessons to propel us to even greater success in the future.

Chuck Violand (more about Chuck)
SFS Instructor
CEO Violand Management Associates

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