‘Only A Few Can Ever Be Successful’ – WRONG!

Richard Shrapnel's '‘Only A Few Can Ever Be Successful’ – WRONG!'.

In business, it is only the few that reach the upper levels of leadership who are considered to be a real success. But this common mindset undermines the real potential of every person in a business, and the business itself. Leaders must proactively define ‘success’ to enable a business to achieve its greatest potential.


Active Knowledge Questions:

Name five successful people presently in your business. Why do you consider them successful?



Most business leaders would not sit back and reflect upon how everyone in their business views success and seek to influence that view. There would be a bonus system, a performance review process, two-way feedback, recognition awards, annual pay reviews and of course promotions. These processes would be led out of the HR area of the business and designed to reward people fairly.

It would not even cross leadership’s mind that the way everyone views success would fundamentally impact the competitive fitness of their business.


The Successful Ones

The people who gain promotions to higher positions, and with those promotions more money and benefits, are typically considered to be the successful ones. Success is based on seniority, and greater seniority brings more monetary rewards and recognition.

Just think about the conversations that occur at work. For those seeking to succeed, it’s about the next promotion and what they need to do to win that promotion. It can be a very political game, and some choose to play that game, while others will not.

At best there can only ever be a few who will rise to the top of the pyramid, and therefore success defined in this way will always be very exclusive. And some believe that this is the way success should be seen – exclusive to a few.

As a society, we tend to see wealth, power and position as the marks of success. Moreover, we are all encouraged to adopt these measures to assess others and ourselves. Again, wealth and the trappings that go with it can be a very elusive and exclusive club.

But freeze frame for one moment and consider whether such a definition of success is going to empower or disempower the competitiveness of your business? If only a few can ever achieve this definition of success will that encourage people to strive or surrender?

I’ve worked in businesses where leadership has considered ‘competition’ between staff for the next promotion to be the best possible lever to get the most out of their team. However, such competition usually creates division, non-sharing and pure self-interest. All of which undermine competitiveness.


It’s a Team Competition

In business, it’s a team competition. And no team can win on the efforts of one or a few. Especially when, in business, those ‘few’ typically have little to do with the day to day meeting of customer needs.

In business today, we compete around customer value and our business’s ability to deliver greater customer value than anyone else. And it is the combined talent and effort of everyone who works within and with a business that allows it to compete well.

Think of any sporting team, if it was only the captain, vice-captain and coach were considered, because of their leadership positions, to be successful, how motivated do you think the rest of the team would be to give their all?

Most businesses exist and try to compete, with a low level of overall motivation and contribution from the people who work within and with it. This lack of motivation exists because they are not allowed to feel success in the part they play in the business.

In motive lies competitive strength. And if you cannot find success in pursuing your motive, you will quickly run out of interest and energy.

If only a few can ever be successful, then you will quickly find only a few will be motivated. Others will leave, and many will merely turn off and not try. The concept of success in business is typically structured to result in this outcome.

As a leader, you should be crafting the narrative of what success looks like to lift as many people up as you can.


Bubbling Success Throughout Your Business

Successful people can have a profound effect on your business. Bearing in mind that successful people will exist at every level, and in every area, of your business, and I am not just referring to people in leadership positions.

Success does not lie only in achieving a promotion in your business. Success has a much broader perspective and can be achieved through many varied ways. You want everyone to develop a real sense of success in their lives no matter what activity may yield that feeling.

An extract from ‘Achieve’:

Success is the fuel of life. It energises and enlivens us. Without success, our lives can become dull and dead. Without success as a catalyst in our lives, we will not and cannot reach our potential. Striving for success is an enabler. It draws our best to the surface and allows us to see what we are really capable of achieving.  And success is a renewable resource. We can generate it every moment of every day and can bring an abundance to our lives that we never thought possible. 

Imagine the difference it would make in your business if almost everyone came to work every day with an attitude of success and achievement. And applied that attitude in their work. The competitiveness of your business would leap to an entirely new level.

How your business views success will become a cultural trait within your business, and underpin its competitiveness. Define success in a manner that is available to everyone. It’s about individual growth and achievement in areas in which each person is talented.

If I strive to achieve a promotion at work and do, then that is fantastic. However, if I develop a better way of doing something at work, then that is equally fantastic. And if I simply do my job well, to the best of my ability, and I thrive in, for example, amateur theatre productions. Then that should also be celebrated and recognised in the business.

Acknowledgement of success should not merely be restricted to work activities, as successful people breed other successful people. And the achiever trait that this develops feeds into everything everyone does in your business.

Critically examine how your business views success and rewrite that narrative to encourage everyone to contribute to their fullest. All the elements of the competitive engine will need to be addressed to ensure this new image you are seeking to build can thrive and not be written over. Expect resistance from some and last week’s article on leadership may provide guidance in this respect.

Also, here are three articles which will open out this discussion of ‘success’ if you wish to delve further.

Success Is The Fuel Of Life

Success Should Never Be A Solo Journey

How Do You Energise Your Business?


 An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel