The Fast Lane: Whose success is it anyway?


This article first appeared in The Zweig A/E Marketing Letter (ISSN 1549-9588)
Issue # 145. Originally published


> Find out why a secure job is vastly superior to being on the unemployment line.


Success is a very interesting thing.


I often suggest to project managers that they should help their clients define and articulate what success looks like, because we as consultants always have a much better chance of delivering a successful project if we know what the client thinks success looks like.


A friend of mine was recently asked by the president of his firm to step back from a director-level position to take a manager-level position. The explanation was that, in the new role, he could achieve a level and brand of success that would be much better aligned with what the firm valued.


In the long run, any measurement of success depends most on who is defining what it looks like. The question for my friend, therefore, was whether to measure his success against his own internal vision or the firm’s— did he need to be a director or did he need to make a valuable (and valued) contribution?


Three or four days of agonizing followed the president’s request. A number of folks, myself included, were consulted for advice and commiseration. A number of possible scenarios were played out conversationally, most of them involving projections of who would miss whom and/or who would suffer most, depending on which course my friend decided to take.


If success was defined only in terms of the personal pronoun, the individual’s vision, then a job search would be the only possible path to take. On the other hand, if success was defined in terms of the firm’s vision, he was already successful and valued, and his success could be strengthened and expanded in a number of measurable ways.


A second round of agonizing followed— shorter than the first round, but no less intense. New considerations included potential impacts on his staff, who might find their own job descriptions and/or titles changing, and perhaps in ways they wouldn’t like. Ultimately, however, those decisions would be made by other people through processes he couldn’t control and might not even be able to influence.


In the end, my friend decided to stay where he was. It wasn’t about the title— the title doesn’t do you any good at the supermarket check-out counter. To a degree, it was about his ego, but he finally realized that a secure job where his skills and knowledge were valued and his work was appropriately compensated was vastly superior to being a director on the unemployment line.


Actually, it’s really all about the firm, and about the way the firm defines its own success. My friend thought about his firm being in its third consecutive year of significant growth, and all the new opportunities that were becoming available to him as it grew. He considered the new training, travel, and other opportunities coming his way, all of which would enable him to learn more, see more, do more, and earn higher levels of respect and visibility within his firm and (hopefully) throughout the industry.


At the same time, the pace of the firm’s growth would never allow him to get complacent about his success. As Lewis Carroll said, he would have to “run as fast as he could just to stay where he was!”


When my friend chose to accept the new position, he also chose to contribute to the firm’s vision of its ongoing success. That makes him a team player, a collaborator, and a serious player in the firm’s progress toward an ever-increasing measure of its success.


In the end, it was all about the firm. There will always be “stars” who are so consumed by their own success and so driven by their own egos that they have to move on every time happiness threatens to surface. But in this industry, team players are ultimately more highly valued, which is often a strong measure of happiness.


There are a lot of things wrong with complacency, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with happiness.


Bernie Siben, CPSM, is marketing manager with Quad Knopf, Inc. (Visalia, CA). Contact him at (559) 733-0440 or at


 Tactical Toolbox


Bernie Siben offers these self-assessment tips for anyone who finds themselves at a personal career crossroads:


1. Make sure you understand whose vision of success (yours or the firm’s) is governing. Don’t let the evaluation be ego-driven.


2. Make sure you understand what the firm truly values in your skill set before you accept a new set of responsibilities.


Copyright © 2006, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.