How do you measure success?

I have committed myself to the study of success. Not just successful business people, but sportspeople, philanthropists, humanitarians, artists, anyone who is doing the exceptional and living an exceptional life. I’ve done this by reading biographies, reading their books, listening to interviews, and in some cases getting to know them personally. From getting to know these people I’ve noticed two common themes.

Firstly, they measure their lives, they measure success, in decades. Not days, not weeks, not even years, but decades. Most people want success, happiness, love, money, everything, now. I think they want it now to paint over a certain emptiness inside; if only I had X I’d be happy.

Successful people play the long game, they get meaning from making progress towards a worthy outcome. A good life is like a good fire, it builds slowly and steadily and because of this it caresses and warms the spirit instead of destroying it.

Secondly, they measure their lives by what they did today, by how they are living in this moment. This seems like the opposite of the first theme, but it’s actually the same; you achieve success in decades by how you use your time in the moment.

This doesn’t mean having the outcome today, it means what you doing today, what you doing habitually to move towards your worthy outcome. It means are you doing your best today?

A toned body, a successful business, a worthy charity comes about from the small things, done well, every day.

And here’s the key to this, successful people have both of these, not just one. If you just focus on the decades but neglect today then what you want will always remain a dream. If you just focus on today, but neglect the decades, you’ll end up somewhere but it’s likely that it’s not where you want to get.

In an organisation this approach requires leadership, not leaders with titles. Leadership means keeping an eye to the future and making decisions in the moment that move us towards that future, despite the ‘noise’ people make right now. They don’t defer all decisions by abdicating them to working groups or putting them off to a future administration.

When Nelson Mandela called for peace, for forgiveness, he was a lone voice, his people didn’t want to hear what he had to say. But he was right. Judge him by his results.

Creating an outstanding future requires playing the long game and living fully in the moment, and this takes courage and leadership, whether that’s leadership of ourselves or leadership of others.

The cost of not doing this is almost certainly failure.