Who is responsible for your success?

THIS IS an important question because the answer will affect how you feel about yourself, how likely you are to persist in the face of set backs, and how much enjoyment you gain from the things you do.

If you have read any of Seth Godin‘s work then you are probably familiar with the idea of the “linchpin”; the person who makes things happen, gets things done, and is the reason for successful outcomes.

Who are the linchpins in your world?  Think about your work life, family life, or sporting activities.  Who do you want on your team?  Who is the person that will ensure quality work, home cooked meals, or sporting victory?  Chances are you can think of at least one person in each setting who you would describe as a “linchpin” … and chances are they’re not you.

Many people look externally for the source of positive outcomes, success and enjoyment in their lives.  Martin Seligman, in his best-selling book “Learned Optimism“, outlines that this habit of attributing positive outcomes to other people, external factors or luck is a form of pessimism.  And the more non-personal, temporary and specific your explanations for positive outcomes, the more pronounced the pessimism.

Here are three examples of pessimistic explanations for positive outcomes:

  1. Praise from a client: “The client was happy with the finance report [specific] that the team [non-personal] submitted on this project [temporary]. Dave had some great insights.” [non-personal]
  2. Enjoyed family barbeque: “I enjoyed the family barbeque [specific] this year [temporary]. Grandma was so funny.” [non-personal]
  3. Won a swimming race: “I won the race [specific]. Suzy was off the pace tonight.” [non-personal and temporary]

You need to take personal responsibility for the good things in your life because this is a form of optimism, self-belief, and will give you the positive energy you need to keep moving.  The more personal, permanent, and pervasive your explanations for your success, the better.

Compare the above explanations with the following more optimistic explanations:

  1. Praise from client: “The client loves us [permanent, pervasive]. We are a good group and I work really well with people.” [personal, permanent]
  2. Enjoyed family barbeque: “What a fun day with the family, I always enjoy myself.” [personal, permanent and pervasive]
  3. Won a swimming race: “The other swimmers are very competitive [permanent]. I swam a personal best [personal] and I am grateful to my coach for helping me make the most of my abilities.” [personal, permanent and pervasive]

The interesting thing about each of the above statements is that they explain things which have happened, i.e. they explain the past.  It is curious that many people find it difficult to explain the past in an optimistic way because, after all, your life is a story, you are the main character, and you are free to tell your own story and portray the the main character in any way you choose.  If you do not own your past successes then you are placing other people or circumstances at the the centre of your personal story, and thereby shifting positive energy away from yourself.

Wait a minute, you may be thinking, taking all the credit for my success sounds kind of arrogant and being humble is a good thing, right?  Yes, you are right, humility is a good thing.  However, if you think of “humility” as the quality of avoiding excessive arrogance and considering other people as just as important as yourself then you might agree that failing to take responsibility goes much further than this.  The humble man will give credit where credit is due, but the irresponsible man will almost always downplay or ignore his own role in success and attribute that success to other people, fortunate circumstances or dumb luck.

The irresponsible man may be able to avoid any blame for failure. However, he will find it difficult to be satisfied with his success, persist in the face of personal setbacks, or delight in fulfilling his daily goals … because he has none.

Who is responsible for your success?


BACK in 1997, Tom Peters talked about “Brand You“. Tom told us that big companies understand the importance of brands and that today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. This is absolutely true, but it is only part of the story.

You are not a walking brand, you are an individual who can create, develop and (if necessary) modify your image to help you provide significant value to others.

You are the big gun, the top cat, the ringleader, the head honcho, the Chief. And as the Chief Executive Officer of You Corporation you are responsible for figuring out who you are and, based on your discoveries, to then confidently create, package and sell what you have to offer the world. There are 5 matters that you will need to attend to:

  1. Resources: You are responsible for sourcing the best materials available to help you do what you do best every day. Butchers need the best meat, bakers the best flour, consultants the sharpest insights, and lawyers the deepest and most accurate legal knowledge. Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right?
  2. Talents: You need to capitalise on your strengths in order to distinguish yourself. If you have a remarkable flare for fashion and find yourself working as an accountant, ask the CEO to find you a different role.
  3. Passion: Your passion is the internal energy and powerful emotion that you need to steam roll the obstacles that stand in your way. Some people say that motivation doesn’t last, this is true, but neither does bathing. Do it daily. Get motivated and then get moving.
  4. Branding: Your brand is the word of mouth; it is what people are saying about you when you’re not in the room. A positive brand works in your favour because other people will be happy to open doors to help you on your way. The more work your brand does for you, the less you will have to do for yourself.
  5. Relationships: You are in the business of value creation, and you will inevitably work with other people to obtain value, create new value, or to offer this value to the world. Build strong trust based relationships so that you can focus on the value creation process and not on who gets what, and who so what to whom.