Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

“Self-Made” is BS

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Guest post by Rick Miller

The widely-held belief that success is available to everyone, simply with focus and hard work is one among many positive messages regularly reinforced in our Western culture.

But in my view, our “cowboy culture” also over-celebrates individual accomplishment, particularly in business. Too many romanticize the importance of a single individual’s ability to enable a big impact. This idea that denies the reality that teams of people, along with some good luck, always play big roles in enabling any company, or an individual for that matter, to register true success.

Self-made is BS

But we love heroic stories.

And the media is well-served to regularly feed us the stories that we all enjoy reading and watching. Business icons are created in part to sell products. And while many of us can learn from and be inspired by stories about Steve Jobs, Meg Whitman, Larry Ellison, Mary Barra, Jeff Bezos and Mark Cuban, at times the media goes too far. They sometimes build up super-human personas that more resemble Marvel Comic book characters than real Chiefs.

For me, one particular exaggeration goes too far. The hair on the back of my neck stands up whenever I read the characterization of a business leader as “self-made,” because that’s simply bulls#!t.

The good news is that few, if any, of these successful individuals would ever describe themselves as self-made. They know the truth. Anyone who actually refers to themselves as a self-made success might as well be waving a red flag. Proceed with caution.

The bad news is that people looking for role models might actually believe it. They want to believe that they, too, can create success from nothing—all by themselves. But that’s not how it works in real life when you pull back the curtains. No one works truly alone.

While we all love rags-to-riches stories, let’s be honest about a more realistic recipe for success.

Here is mine:

  1. Be focused and hard-working, and
  2. Be thankful for circumstances you did not create
  3. Be grateful for the (many) people who have supported you and those who continue to
  4. Be generous in supporting others
  5. Be understanding of those who may not have had the support they needed
  6. Be empathetic for those in circumstances they did not choose
  7. Be humble

We can still enjoy fantasy, but it’s important to stay grounded in certain truths. We all have had help.

Questions: What has been your secret for success? To whom do you give credit for your success? Please leave a comment in the space below.

Be ChiefRick Miller is an unconventional turnaround specialist, sought-after speaker, servant leader, and expert in driving sustainable growth. For over 30 years, he served as a successful senior executive in roles including President and/or CEO in Fortune 10, Fortune 30, nonprofit, and startup companies, including AT&T Global Services and Lucent Technologies. Throughout his career, he has been recruited from the outside to turn around poor performance in difficult times. His new book Be Chief: It’s A Choice, Not A Title, helps leaders at all levels achieve their true potential. To learn more, visit BeingChief.com.

 


The Product Management Perspective: Who helped you get into product management? Have you expressed your appreciation to that person? Perhaps more importantly, who have you helped to progress in their career? These are not questions we think about every day as product managers; however, these topics have an effect on who we are and where we’re heading; so take some time today to consider both what help you get into the role and what you can do to help someone else.

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