Recently, I wrote about a local football hero who made it to the NFL and got featured on every sport’s network top-five highlight reel with his embarrassing pre-touchdown pat-himself-on-the-back blunder. His hand-in-the-air celebration as he coasted toward the goal line ended with a thud at the 5-yard line—brought down by a hard-charging but unseen tackler. The high-potential rookie, Sammy Watkins, had celebrated his 84-yard touchdown run a bit premature.
Way too often, we’ve observed companies, politicians, business leaders, spiritual leaders, and civic leaders grow from good to great and then stumble, derail or decline. Two best-selling books targeting this phenomenon in business circles, How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins and Derailed by Tim Irwin, have highlighted the predictable patterns and causes. Jim Collins‘ research reveals five stages of decline for companies that have had great success: 1) Hubris born of success, 2) Undisciplined pursuit of more, 3) Denial of risk and peril, 4) Grasping for salvation and 5) Capitulation to irrelevance or death. Dr. Tim Irwin describes the stages of derailment as a process: 1) Failure of self/other awareness, 2) Hubris: Pride before the fall, 3) Missed early warning signals, 4) Rationalizing and 5) Derailment.
Here’s my own take on how to avoid a fall before reaching the goal line:
Stay Humble – If I view my success as “deserved” and see myself as the epicenter of my organization’s success, I’m primed for a tumble. Arrogance and entitlement are like running on shifting sand on the way to the finish line. If I lose my inquisitive and learning orientation, I’m implying I know it all. There are many more nuances of hubris described by both Collins and Irwin. But here’s what King Solomon tweeted nearly three thousand years ago, “First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. (Proverbs 16:18, The Message).
Be Aware of Your Surroundings – Success has a way of creating tunnel vision. Sammy Watkins was so focused on the fact he made the catch and had run 84 yards that he simply failed to notice Saalim Haikim in his rearview mirror. If I as a leader get enthralled with my organization’s success, I can easily miss the warning lights and gauges that could signal an impending problem. Collins book reminds me that I must stay focused on the primary “flywheel” that got the organization to greatness in the first place. Apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.” (1 Corinthians 10:12, The Message).
Keep Running Strong—Coasting has cost a lot of athletes the gold medal. Even the focus of an upcoming retirement date can create a mindset of aimlessly wandering toward the finish line. I’m committed to running strong all the way to the end. I am working toward mastering the fine art of finishing well. (See Philippians 3:12-14).
Know Your Mission—A brief forgetful moment that the mission of the game is to score goals, cost Sammy Watkins. Catching the pass was spectacular. Running down the field toward the goal was awesome. But neither of those count on the scoreboard. The ball has to cross the goal line. Do you know your mission? Do you have an updated mission statement that will carry you all the way to the end zone?
Pursue Accountability—I have a personal board of directors. They help me stay focused on my mission and remind me who I am. I need my wife and others to make me aware of an increasing ego, shortcut tendencies or if I’m drifting off mission.
Know Your Highest Calling—Our Creator has designed us to desire, need and thrive in relationship to Him. If I’m missing a clear sense of purpose in relation to God’s biggest picture for me, then I will always be shortsighted. I’ll never be fulfilled and satisfied with any level of earthly or material success. I’ll always be chasing the unreachable wind (See Ecclesiastes 2:1-11).
However, I’ve been learning this. When I stay in daily close connection with God and understand His calling and purpose for me, then it’s definitely easier to avoid arrogance, to be attuned to my surroundings, to run convincingly to the goal, to know my personal mission and to humbly seek accountability.
QUESTION: What would you add? I’d love to hear it in the comment section.