“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” –William James
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying made for a great musical comedy–so good it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1962. But the show’s title is a terrible template to use in realizing success either in our personal lives or in business. Here’s why: when I speak to groups on the attributes of great leaders, I reference an often missed truth, but one that will be obvious to you as soon as I remind you–we each manifest our own reality.
Success is one manifestation of how we decide to read reality daily. We have a choice. Surely there are circumstances that arise in our lives that may determine the course of our existence in observable and measurable ways. But the determinants of success almost always lie within our control, that positive result spawned by our consciousness–how we choose to think about things.
Norman Vincent Peale termed this The Power of Positive Thinking, the title of his 1952 book. While some consider Peale’s teaching to be a simplistic dictum, experience has taught me that his advice is spot-on. Remember the adage “We are what we eat”? Frankly, I’ve never understood that phrase, but something we all understand as fundamental to our emotional and material well-being is that “We are what we think.” How we think about things creates our perception of our state of well-being, as well as prophesies what life has in store for us.
Peale affirms this in his unreferenced observation that “There is a deep tendency in human nature to become precisely that which you habitually imagine yourself to be.” So the choice is simply this: like so many other people, we can surrender to life, or we can take control. Just the notion of taking control makes you feel better, doesn’t it? The uniquely human gift of free will means never allowing ourselves to become the playthings of people, events, or material resources that fall into or drop out of our existence.
What does this mean for leaders in the workplace or as leaders of ourselves, of our families? It means exemplifying the strength possessed by an individual in control. Great leaders always personify stability, appearing as persons calmly functioning in the eye of the maelstrom, rather than helpless passengers in a boat about to be sucked down into the bowels of a storm. Leaders, by their appearance and behavior, remind those in their charge that creating a successful conclusion in any endeavor is a difficult, time-intensive undertaking. Furthermore, a close look at their biographies reveals that success worth having is never easy to bring together. But one precondition to success–the expectation of it occurring—is free and easy for anyone to meet. How do we form such a precondition? Through our thoughts, how we choose to remember past events, and our willingness to dream.
If you think about it, the most wondrous aspect of dreams is that they are inversely proportional to our success. The greater our success, the still greater are our dreams–what a wonderful formula indeed! Choosing, then, to think and dream positively, to emphasize the place of and the past workings of free will in our lives is how we really (and realistically!) try to succeed in any business—the business of enterprise and the business of life, too.