Success Is Not an `Outcome'

Executive Speeches, August 1999 | Go to article overview

Success Is Not an `Outcome'


Thank you, Maureen [Bunyan, anchor for ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV]--and let me add my congratulations and "welcome back" to the Washington news scene. Over lunch, Maureen and I were talking about the many things Channel 7 does for the Washington community. My firm, Booz*Allen & Hamilton, works closely with WJLA. We're currently a sponsor of the station's Character Education Campaign and we've worked with WJLA on the Neediest Kids Charity for more than a decade --about as long as we've worked with the Women's Center.

Public figures like Maureen often find their success defined by others in artificial terms like "rating points."

But, it's not just newscasters, athletes, and celebrities whose success seems linked to score-keeping and winning.

If you ask the average American to define success, you'd probably get answers like this:

* Driving a Lexus

* Scoring a hole-in-one

* Having a big house in Great Falls or

* Getting a child into Harvard.

Likewise, in the business world, success tends to be measured by the yardsticks of pay and promotion.

In December, when I was elected to be the new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Booz*Allen, someone asked me "so, what does if feel like to achieve the ultimate success?"

I was kind of taken aback. Clearly, it felt good to get the vote of confidence from my partners--but I didn't for a minute equate "success" with "being a CEO." In fact, I thought I already had the best job in the firm.

As I talked to people about success, a fascinating pattern emerged. The people I really admired, defined success quite differently from the conventional "score-sheet" method.

So, in preparing for today, I decided to explore this idea further. I wanted to see who else held a different view of success, and I wanted to learn more about what people consider to be the key enablers and obstacles to their success.

I turned to Booz*Allen's Women's Advisory Board, a group of 18 accomplished women of diverse ages, backgrounds, and career specialties. I established this Board four years ago to advise me and the firm's top management on issues they believe are important to work and work-life balance for employees at our firm.

I asked the Women's Advisory Board members if they'd be willing to share their perspectives on six questions:

1. Thinking about your own overall life goals and accomplishments, how do you define success?

2. What are the key enablers for you in achieving success?

3. What are the main obstacles to you in achieving success?

4. How have you overcome set-backs in the past?

5. If you could change one thing about your life today, what would it be?

6. If your employer could change one thing to improve your situation, what would that be?

I was intrigued with the responses, and was surprised by how consistent they were. The answers were both consistent with each other (even though there' s a wide diversity of age, level, and background among the Women's Advisory Board members) and consistent with my own views about success.

There are a lot of theories about what it takes to succeed and reach your life goals. Some people talk about a "master plan" set early in life and followed religiously to their desired outcome. Others see life as a wheel of fortune that can be neither predicted, nor influenced. But my experience, the experience of our Women's Advisory Board members, and the experience of other accomplished people I know, suggest that neither a master plan nor lucky stars drives success. And, that success is not about keeping score.

This is what I want to share with you today:

Success is not an outcome--it's a way of living. And the keys to living well are: responsibility ... relationships ... and resilience.

Success has to do, first, with knowing what your goals are--and then, taking the responsibility, building the relationships, and having the resilience to achieve them. …

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