Success Stories: 3 themes

We are naturally drawn to successful people. But what is success? We were at the CMI (Chartered Management Institute) conference last week, doing the on-stage links between successful people talking to the audience, and it was hard to pin down what all these success stories had in common. Fortunately, three themes emerged during the day which seemed to be good strategies for success – whether you define success by counting true friends or the number of cars on your driveway.

So here are the strategies, for which we can claim no originality.

1. Love what you do.

‘If you don’t love it, don’t do it,’ was the recurrent note of Sir Stuart Rose’s speech. Sir Stuart made his name at Marks & Spencer, where he rose through the ranks from management trainee to Chief Executive, with some time out at the top of Argos and Booker along the way. Currently Chairman of the Ocado Group, he clearly loves running businesses. We can all think of people who hammer away in jobs they hate when they could be doing something else that would make them happy while they are at work rather than when they are surveying the things they don’t have time to enjoy properly. There are only so many cars you can drive – which is why the PS Programmes chauffeurs are allowed every second Sunday off.

2. Invest for growth, don’t slash costs.

President of CMI and former CEO of Visa Europe – Peter Ayliffe and the CMIs Chief Ex – Ann Francke both spoke on the importance of long term growth. There are still plenty of companies that cut costs, bump up the profits for the next quarter and call that ‘success’ – but it comes at the expense of the health of the company as a whole.

If the current financial situation teaches us anything, it is that borrowing from the future can be more expensive than anticipated.

This isn’t to advocate wastefulness: but if people’s jobs are simply cut instead of the way they work being changed, fewer and fewer people are taking on the wasteful work practices of their former colleagues. The big success stories in business are from innovative organisations that put time and money into R&D, exploring possibilities and following interesting leads. You don’t become a world leader by keeping your head down.

3. Don’t manage, coach.

It’s hard to be entirely self-made: even the best of us need mentors to get us started, investors to take us to the next level, and colleagues to challenge our ideas and bring new ones to the table. Managing people tends to imply power relations, whereas coaching is more of a two way process, a sharing of ideas. Most of us need a sounding board: the Wright brothers (first to man a flight) famously settled arguments by taking each other’s points of view and doing battle.

A coaching approach to management gives people the power to come up with their own solutions, to be successful in their own right, and to pass on that success to others. The punch line is: if you help others to succeed, they will be in a good place to help you if you need it. Success is a collaborative process, and the truth is that even when the limelight is on a successful figurehead, they are nothing without a successful team behind them.

So ask yourself: does your enterprise tick all of these boxes? If not, you may want to think about changing your approach. And if it does, no need to prepare for success – you’re probably already there.

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