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Being successful means knowing what you want

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Many years ago I worked with a company that was struggling. No matter what happened, they were disappointed. By many people’s definition, they were immensely successful: they had close to 100 percent market share, high inventory turn rates, very solid net profits, and a positive cash flow.

But they were not content with these outcomes.

I soon discovered the problem: they had no idea what success was. They had given the topic no attention whatsoever. When results were reported, they had no basis of comparison to determine if it was good news or bad. Their default was to assume it was bad.

While this example is admittedly extreme, the absence of an individualized definition of success is almost universal in the world of business. 

Most businesses simply have never put on paper what they aim to accomplish. Some have adopted some boilerplate definition of success they got out of some book. Since they don’t “own” the statement, if they do achieve it, it doesn’t feel like real success. Very few have taken the time to determine their unique definition of success.

It is tempting to define success in simple financial terms: success is making a profit, for instance. While that often is a good start, it rarely reflects the true aspirations of a company or the people that own it and operate it.

For most companies, profit and cash flow are a means to an end; they are needed in order to accomplish what really counts in the eyes of the stakeholders. Real success might look like:

  • The ability to retire comfortably with few stresses.
  • Helping others to overcome challenges.
  • Bringing health, prosperity and jobs to their communities.
  • Having flexibility and having options in life.
  • Creating something, or being innovative.
  • Solving a problem or curing a disease.
  • Working with a team of great people.
  • Providing financial independence; making work optional.

Ideally, a success statement is part of a more complete plan, but even a simple statement can be enough to provide both direction and contentment.

Do you want to take a huge step toward greater success in your career or in your business? Start by writing down your own unique definition of success.

Dave Bartholomew is the founder of Ascent Advising LLC, working with “corner office” people around the globe to define and achieve their unique definition of success. He and his wife, Nancy, co-founded Simply Living Farm, a shop in Leavenworth providing goods for a sustainable life. He can be reached at Dave@AscentAdvising.com.