A headline in the USA Today sports section of our local paper this week was “Chase for Fame A-Rod’s Shame.” Baseball star Alex Rodriquez is suspended for the entire 162-game 2014 season. It will cost him his $25 million dollar salary, every ounce of his reputation, credibility and likely a shot at the Hall of Fame. It’s a loud crash heard in every corner of the baseball kingdom.

A-RodBob Nightengale reflected in the USA Today article, that Rodriquez was always the best from teen to major league. Even though he dated celebrities and was the highest-paid player in baseball history, it wasn’t enough. His 654 home-runs were inadequate. He wanted to join the 800 home-run club. Nightengale concludes his article with this sobering comment, “Alex Rodriquez, the person, is no longer famous. A-Rod, the disgraced ballplayer, will forever be infamous.” Indeed, a very loud crash.

One of the great books I’ve read in the last five years is Jim Collin’s book, “How the Mighty Fall.” Collins four-year research of top-tier businesses who skidded to the bottom of the pile reveals a pattern of five commonalities in a specific pattern of decline. Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success. Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More.  Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril.  Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation.  Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death. Right now, A-Rod is in stage four, still fighting, still trying to be heard. Nightengale predicts stage five is just around the corner.

A-Rod2Success in any individual, any career, any organization has the same temptation. I’ve watched it in others and fought it in myself. I’m vulnerable and you are vulnerable. The higher we climb on the ladder, the more precarious the balance.

Here are a few things I’m learning that I believe can help avoid a loud crash or even a slow slide.

Stay God-focused – Stage one kicks in when we become arrogant, gravitate toward entitlement and lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place. When I fail to recognize God’s providence, His grace, His blessing and His provision in my life, my footing is already becoming unstable. I remind myself often that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). I seek to remember that life is a gift and I’m a steward of God’s stuff (Psalm 24:1 ).

Stay Grateful – It’s so easy to start viewing my success as deserved rather than a blessing. Staying God-focused helps me to stay grateful. I’m reminded to proclaim often that I’m blessed more than I deserve. I try to give thanks each day that God has gifted me and shaped me for His purposes for this time and place. I’m incredibly thankful for the amazing diversity of people who’ve contributed to my life and my success.  Other self-sacrificing partners in ministry have made me look far better than I really am.

Stay Growing – Leaders are learners. They never know it all. The moment I start thinking I have nothing more to learn and now I should be the teacher because I have figured out the key to success, I’m on shaky terrain. I have started to succumb to hubris. I want to continue learning because it was inquisitiveness that contributed to my success in the first place. Leaders who stay successful keep growing at every age and stage of life.

I feel saddened by A-Rod’s dilemma. While it seems obvious to me, he may not even be aware of how it happened.  I’m not writing to humiliate or to judge. I’m writing this so I can learn and not repeat the same pattern in my own life. And maybe, just maybe, someone else will be saved from a loud crash.

QUESTION: What would you add that has helped to avoid the hubris brought by success? I’d love to hear it below.

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