Super successful people do not “coast” on their success.
Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of very successful people, and I’ve found they have one thing in common. They always keep challenging themselves. They always keep trying to be better.
I have a tendency to want to coast. If I’m good at something, my default is to keep doing it! This isn’t always a great asset.
One of my greatest heroes, Dr. Paul Hersey, co-creator of Situational Leadership™, was a wonderful mentor to me. Paul pointed out this fault of mine to me many years ago.
Paul was a great teacher and a generous man who taught me not only all about Situational Leadership, he also taught me about myself. When I first met Paul, he let me follow him around to try to learn what he did, which was to give talks to different business leaders. He was probably the highest paid person in our field at the time. One day, he got double-booked. He asked me, “Can you do what I do?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I need help. I’ll pay you $1000 for one day.” This was 39 years ago, I was 28 years old, and I was making $15,000 for one year! I said, “You’re paying me $1000 for one day’s work? Sign me up coach!”
The program was for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. When I showed up instead of Paul, they were not happy. I did the presentation anyway, and at the end of the day was ranked first of all the speakers! They called Paul after the program and said “Marshall was great. Send him again.” Paul called me up and asked me if I wanted to do another program for them. Of course I did!
That’s how I got into the business.
I worked with Paul for quite a few years doing this. One day he told me that I was very good at what I did, selling days and speaking, but that I was making too much money and complacent in my success. He told me that I was just a hamster on a wheel not going anywhere, that I would probably make lots of money and have a good life, but if I continued doing what I was doing I wouldn’t become the person I could be.
I respected Paul immensely and his words triggered a profound emotion in me. I knew he was right. Unless I changed some behaviors of mine that had in fact led to my success, I would never create anything new for myself.
But I was too busy maintaining a comfortable life, and for 12 more years, I didn’t follow Paul’s advice. I just coasted on my success. The work I did was good. People were happy. It was very lucrative, but I wasn’t becoming the person I could be. I was living the tale I tell in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. What got me “here,” which was a good place, wasn’t going to get me anyplace else.
It wasn’t until I met some of my other heroes, Frances Hesselbein, Richard Beckhardt, Peter Drucker, that I began to change. These other heroes of mine helped me focus on the things that Paul had suggested I engage in to grow: original thinking, writing, creating, and research.
Without these mentors, I would never have become the #1 leadership thinker in the world. And, without Paul’s advice, I would never have known that coasting on our achievements can be one of the biggest flaws of very successful people!
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