I write from a humble place – and this is, not at the top. What I hope to make of myself is through the pursuit of knowledge, integrity, and hard work with a bit of luck along the way. And I intend to stay on this course in my determination to rise to the top. I document this now, as I want to be able to reflect on this post the day I have it made. I hope the day I achieve success, it will be never forgetting who I am and what it took to get there.
Now many many years of hard work later, I find myself sharing my 9 to 5 with increasingly more motivated high achievers who are reaching the pinnacle of their successes. What I have seen so far is how success can change people (for the worse). The essential characteristics that spur their rise to the top seem to almost vanish, and you’re left wondering…how did they get to their position?
Do you ever get the sense that the more powerful people get, the more seemingly incapable they become? You’re not the only one.
Four scientists have evidenced this in a journal “Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes”. These scientists have found that power breeds overconfidence and overconfidence breeds the inability to make good decisions. To make matters worse, people in the position of power often find themselves increasingly isolated – stifling any opportunity for discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making.
Yes, having power can make you stupid.
Along the way, successful people are derailed by an underlying dysfunctional pattern – a toxic over-dependence on others – whether being increasingly spoon-fed information and managed in order to be able to do their work. These people have once and probably are very smart, seemingly become incompetent—often at work, or in daily life skills, or both.
At first glance, the term “dependent” seems like an oxymoron, yet this dysfunctional behavioural pattern is rampant within the business world. C-suites happen to be the most coddled group of employees in any organisation. They often have large teams that are very capable of “hand-holding” them through every step and making sure that every detail is being taken care of.
Remember your humble beginnings.
A CEO in Moutain View, California practices a ‘no admin’ rule that appears to be working – since last year his company has experienced 500% growth and a 50% uptake in monthly usage, all while he scheduled his own meetings, booked his own travel and cleaned up his own inbox. And here’s some reasons why he goes to the trouble.
At the top, there’s always someone to… take care of the details.
Many have earned their first Executive Assistant in their journey to the top where they have been spoiled in this perfect bubble where they get what they want, when they want. Everything suddenly becomes too convenient with increasing expectation that everything will be delivered on a silver platter. Once a privilege, is now taken for granted as they spend these years climbing up the ladder.
Take control of your calendar (and your life).
It is OK to do some things yourself. For instance – diary management, travel arrangements and even personal organisation. Let’s say if time is your most valuable commodity in your position of power, shouldn’t you be protecting this, rather than handing this responsibility over to someone else? Only you know the priority level of the events that take place in your day. Also technology has taken much of the pain out – today everything is at your fingertips. The last situation you want to find yourself in is moving throughout your day like a zombie being shoved from one meeting room to another – equipped with a de-briefing packet.
At the top, there’s always someone to… just make it happen.
Many people in these positions are time-starved with tight schedules. Too often, they demand complex issues to be condensed into quick and easily digestible information. Big Picture they call it – “Give me the big picture!” can be heard several times a day. Elevator pitch is another one. But most things in life are not plain black and white, and similarly in the boardroom. It is such details and context that is important. With their brains usually shifting quickly from one big important issue to the next, they become too reliant on individuals to help them make a decision because someone told them it would be a good one. This is dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control.
Attention to detail is in the execution…. and execution is business.
Tesco faced one of its ever biggest crisis when an investigation revealed a £250M shortfall in estimated profits for the 6 months leading to August 23. The news emerged that this accounting scandal had gone ‘unnoticed’ by previous senior management. One has to question whether is this the result of a corrupt business culture, or is it just simply ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?
In a position of power, the big picture (vision & strategy) becomes more pronounced and judged, while the job to look into the finer details automatically becomes someone else’s responsibility. I find that increasingly people at the top stop inquiring about the details. After all, there are people on your pay-roll hired specifically to look into the details, right? Just look at the job descriptions out there, throughout the organisational levels, a candidate has to possess a strong attention to detail yet you will hardly find it a prerequisite for senior managers and above. It is always important to remember that the only difference between merely satisfactory delivery and great delivery is the attention to detail. And just maybe, this was the striking quality you possessed in your journey to the top.
At the top, there’s always someone to… stroke the ego.
Many that have been good enough to make it to the top – or very close to the top are paid high salaries, given fat bonuses, and surrounded with fawning underlings. Egos are usually huge and along the way their successes have been fuelling their need for more power and control. They strive to be dominant and want everyone to know it. They slowly exhibit the ‘top-dog syndrome’ with a profound sense of entitlement – someone who feels so special that they demand special treatment.
Remember your values.
It is easy to become self-absorbed when you find success in your life and feel entitled to everything you have worked so hard to attain. But, it should not be at the cost of your values and principles that have made you successful in the first place. It is true that not everyone treats success the same – some people can still achieve success while remaining humble, not forgetting who they are and where they have come from.
So, what now?
It is important to remember a time when there was no ego, no pretense, no gamemanship and no assistants. Success is a journey, not a destination. It is in this journey that we must always remember who we are and what we have, that got us to the top. And while on top, fight to never lose it. At the end of the day, it’s pretty simple – you may be a C-, but who ever said you have to be a major-C****! :0)