Self-made success: reality or fiction?

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine regarding people who we considered to be “self-made” men or women. It was a very lively discussion with both of us having different opinions and views, but what may have been most intriguing were our thoughts on HOW these different people obtained their self-made success. He was of the opinion that people obtained success through their own hard work and determination, most often without help from other people. My opinion was that people are very rarely successful without some type of assistance in some form or another.

After doing a little research on the topic, it was not surprising to find both views points highly debated. So for my blog, allow me to offer my thoughts on self-made success: is it reality or simply fiction?

Let’s start by defining the term “self-made”: A “self-made man” or “self-made woman” describes a person who was born poor or otherwise disadvantaged, but who achieved great economic success thanks to their own hard work and ingenuity rather than to any inherited fortune, family connections or other privilege.

In my friend’s eyes, the self-made person is a very strong reality at least from an individual’s perspective. His argument was simply that if someone is not told that they had help, i.e. a “leg up”, why would they not accept that they did it on their own? There is obviously more to his argument. I hate that I am unable to provide it to you here if for nothing more than to help you understand his thoughts fully.

In my eye’s, the self-made person is a fictional character, an urban myth created by someone’s ego.   How is it that we choose not to see how everyone that we have come in contact with has not left some sort of impression on us? Is it our pride, ego, arrogance, insecurity, or ignorance that keeps us from recognizing the contributions of others in our lives?

During our conversation I was quick to bring to light a large number of employees that he knew that had worked for me and moved on to other jobs. I asked him his opinion on how these employees were able to be promoted to better positions? He responded that it had to be through their own efforts and those efforts were recognized by the right people.

What my friend was unaware of was how much of a role I played in getting my employees promoted. A good manager not only understands what their employee is capable of doing, something called a “basic skill set”, but also their potential, sometimes referred to as a person’s “learned skill set”. Good leaders and managers will help an employee develop this learned skill set by giving them goals and projects that let them practice these skills. They mentor the employee, providing direction and insight to ensure that the learning process is not wasted. They also usually suggest education options or classes that assist with the learning process. Lastly, once the skill has been developed, it is up to the manager to highlight the employee’s success in their personal development plan also called an annual review.

Today’s “popular leadership” culture seems to encourage personal glorification above all else. It causes a very stressful working environment, trust becomes a liability and only the cut throats seem to advance. I was fortunate to learn my management skills from true leaders, my father and mother.  What they taught me was that real leaders never take credit for themselves, they give credit to others. I was taught to take complete responsibility for all my failures, shortcomings or mistakes, while taking very little credit for my own success. Virtually all of the good things that have happened to me over the years have been the result of the collaboration of people working together.

I try to surround myself with people that do not suffer from this delusion of grandeur and share my perspective. Those people, like me, understand that leadership isn’t about self-serving behaviors; it’s about service beyond self. It’s not about an individual, and when it becomes about one individual, failure is not very far away.

Historically smart leaders are those who have surrounded themselves with good people. They have easily engaged others into an effortless collaboration. They instinctively look for assistance from others, understanding that a large network of good people contribute to their success.

Mike Myatt, a contributor with Forbes offers this advice:

“If you desire to enlist others in your success, try incorporating the following 5 things into your leadership style:

  1. Don’t be a jerk: While people don’t necessarily have to like you in order to help you, it certainly doesn’t hurt. However I can promise you that if you’re perceived as a jerk people will not only go out of their way not to help you succeed, but they will do everything possible to impede your success. I have long been a believer that contrary to popular opinion, nice guys (and gals) do in fact finish first.
  2. Give credit where credit is due: Smart leaders understand there is far more to be gained by giving away credit than by retaining it. The best leaders don’t seek credit – they seek results. They understand the force multiplier that comes via a motivated team effort.
  3. Go out of your way to help others: Do unto others – what goes around comes around – you reap what you sow, and any number of other statements to that effect ring true more often than not. If you are sincerely interested in helping others, and make it a habit to go out of your way to do so, then those people will likely be inclined to reciprocate.
  4. Know what you want and focus your efforts to that end: You must develop a clear picture of what it is that you want to accomplish, and then apply laser-like focus in the pursuit of your goals.
  5. Make your goals known to those that can help you: It is not only important to communicate your vision to those in a position to help you succeed, but always make sure and ask for their help. Don’t be bashful or embarrassed, but rather confidently recruit others to become enablers and evangelists of your cause. You need to believe that one of your top priorities is team building, and consistently seek out greater numbers of people to champion your cause and scale your efforts.”

Behind every successful person are significant investments and contributions by many of the following people: family, friends, associates, protagonists, antagonists, advisors, teachers, authors, mentors, coaches, and the list continues.

You can either view yourself as part of a hierarchical world sitting at the top of the organizational chart beating your chest and puffing up your ego, or you can view yourself as the hub at the center of a large and diverse network of good people. One is certainly more profitable and enjoyable than the other. You may choose to build your career at the expense of others, or by helping others – so choose wisely.

Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments section below.

One Comment on “Self-made success: reality or fiction?

  1. Pingback: What we can learn from Mariah Carey | Dancing to Make a Difference

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