True Leaders Don’t Chase Success

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

There is one thing I’ve learned from working at big companies like Fox, Microsoft, Myspace, Yahoo, and Sony: Change is unpredictable.

Sometimes you’ll have a great year and BAM! Layoffs and you’re gone. OR…you’ll be working around the clock for a project and BAM! You get a low performance review from your manager. Or your project is going well and BAM! your budget is taken away.

What’s a person to do? Ambitious people (like you) want to get ahead and make an impact. But really, you want to get a BIG SHINY promotion and move up – yet how do you stand out with so much uncertainty?

Here’s the interesting mind shift: You don’t.

Chasing the Promotion = Chasing Your Tail

At work, the more you chase promotion and success – the more you turn off your manager and your peers.

You become agenda-based. And that’s the worst thing ever. That’s the stink of car salesmen – people who befriend you but really are NOT your friends.

The fraud emerges: you tell people you are focused on helping them or the team – but inside you are lying to yourself. You are really focused on yourself – and people can smell it a mile away.

In fact, if you pay attention, your focus at work is really about “LOOKING GOOD” rather than being of service (TRUE leadership).

Most ambitious people work hard at work (which you should), but the source of their action is tied to showing people that they are the best.

That’s stupid and causes people to do stupid things. What stupid things?

  • Giving your opinion at team meetings to show off.
  • Focusing too much on who gets credit.
  • Trying hard to impress others.
  • Being easily defensive and protective.
  • Trying hard to befriend people you don’t care about befriending.
  • Being insecure about your job.
  • Being concerned more with “strategizing” and getting credit rather than making a real helpful contribution.
  • Being stuck in your head- rather than expressing yourself around others.

Listen to me: DON’T BE THAT GUY/GIRL.

There is a better and healthier way.



Instead of chasing success and promotion – leaders do something differently that most people don’t. Smart leaders focus on what they can control – which is themselves.

It starts with a simple question: do you know who you want to be?

It’s the most important question.

If you don’t know, you should start working on that NOW.


If you know where you want to be and who you want to be – you can work on closing that gap today.

“Start where you are. Use what you can. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

Instead of seeing success as something you chase and an end state, it’s something you develop and it’s ongoing. It’s something that PULLS you rather than something you CHASE.


For example, if you want to be a design manager at your company, do an audit and see what skills you possess and what skills you need. For example, perhaps this year you want to focus on:

  • Speaking skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Design strategy
  • Design systems
  • Methodologies

You can then work on adding these skills INTO the work you do and taking classes and courses on areas that your work may not help you develop.

Chasing success is like…dating

Back when I was dating I learned this the hard way. Chasing girls doesn’t work. Chasing friendships doesn’t work. Instead, you focus on what you like to do and shine. Go develop yourself and your skills, but don’t try and seek out anything.

It’s very ZEN: the more you chase something, the more it goes away.

Instead, focus on yourself and the process of developing yourself. The right people come along for the ride.

How does this relate to work?

Just like dating, your chance of “success” increases when you develop yourself and do things YOU want to do — not for the sake of impressing others and “looking good”. The right people and opportunities come along for your ride.

The best part: Focusing on developing yourself allows you be the best choice when promotion time comes around.

As long as you keep your eye on the skills you want to develop and start bringing that to the team (being of true service), you will be the natural choice when (and if) a promotion is possible.

This takes the nastiness of trying to ‘be better than everyone else’ out of your work. In fact, trying to be the best is inauthentic. Why? Because you’re not the best…yet. You are working towards it.

As long as we take learner’s attitude and focus on growth, we can be authentic at work and focus on contributing while learning.

Your Thoughts?

What do you think of this mind shift? Do you feel at work you TRY TOO HARD? What do you think about people who do that? Share your comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.