How successful are you?

Your answer to that question will be determined largely by how you choose define success. I’ve found it very helpful to use multiple definitions of success. In fact, I’ve found using the right definition for success in various situations absolutely essential.

I’m going to start by naming the three definitions or categories of success before I describe them.

  1. The outcome-based definition
  2. The process-based definition
  3. The identity-based definition

On April 25 I am registered to run in a half marathon. I’m going to use this as my example for these definitions.

I’ve never run a half marathon before and so I’m still toying with what my goals should be. Part of me wants to say “my goal is just to complete the 13.1 miles.” Another part of me wants to say “I will complete the 13.1 miles in under two hours.” The really competitive side of me wants to win my age division. ALL of those are outcome-based definitions of success. These are the how we usually define success because they are easiest to measure.

Many times a goal or outcome-based definition is helpful. We set revenue goals or turnover goals or scrap-reduction goals. Outcome-based goals are typically quantifiable and easily assessed. In the case of my half marathon, ether I crossed the finish line or I don’t. It’s a pass/fail definition. 

An outcome-based definition of success is probably the most obvious one: Did we reach the outcome we had hoped? Did we win the race? Did we win the business? Did we hit our target? Goals are great to have.

But there are other times, and in my opinion MANY other times, that we need to go into situations with a process-based definition of success and an identity-based definition of success. Otherwise life may become very unsatisfying.

I’m following a training process for this half marathon. It involves running four times a week with one long run each weekend. Every two weeks I add one more mile to my longest run (by the time you read this I’ll be running 10 miles on consecutive Saturdays). No matter how I finish or what my final time is on race day, I’ll look back and feel a measure of success because I believe I used a really good process to prepare. There are many things I cannot control: I might get sick on race day; I might injure myself between now and then. If those things happen, I have no chance of being successful based on my outcome-based definition, but I can still be successful based upon the process-based definition.

Here is a LEAD 24/7 example: Everyone who went through LEAD learned the Leaning into Healthy Conflict Model. It’s a process for having difficult conversations when you have a perception to share or when someone is mad at you. First you share a perception. Next you seek to understand through listening and asking questions. Then you seek to be understood. You determine the level of agreement or disagreement. Together, you develop a plan. Finally, you follow up. That’s the process. While most of the time this strengthens relationships and has a great outcome, the important thing is whether you can look back and know that you followed a great process, the right process. In that way, regardless of outcome, you were successful because of a process-based definition of success.

Now lets talk about identity-based definitions of success. In the DoKnowBe Tree framework, identity-based definitions are all about who you “BE.” What are your beliefs, values, passions, gifts/voids, and wiring?

Or think about your purpose. If you have developed a life purpose statement, you have accurately made a statement about your identity: Who am I and why am I here? An identity-based definition of success is one in which you look at how consistently you lived out of your beliefs, values, passions, gifts, and wiring. Were you true to who you “Be”? Will you look back without regret knowing that you did not compromise that which is most important to you?

So let’s go back to my half marathon. I value fitness. I value time with family (I’m running this race with a family member). I value being in better shape than others my age. When asked, I tell people I AM A RUNNER. I feel most alive when running. In fact, the worse the running conditions, the MORE alive I feel. This is so much a part of my identity that when I struggled with gout about ten years and couldn’t run for months, I became very depressed.

Simply participating in this event is giving me identity-based success. I’m doing what I have been made to do. I may not win my age division; I may not cross the finish line; but running this half marathon makes me successful because it is so much a part of who I am. I can’t NOT run. Failure, by this definition, is simply not running.

Let me be clear: I set metrics and goals all the time. They give me a target and propel me forward. They motivate me to keep my eyes on the prize. I love the outcome-based definition of success. But I’ve also learned that only having one definition for success is insufficient. Success is also following a great process, and success is also being true to who I am.

I would love to be successful in all three categories. But I’m going in to April 25 knowing I am already successful in categories two and three. And that is exactly what frees me up to give my all to being successful in category number one.

Lead on,

Image by Andrew_D_Hurley. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.