That’s because, often, the greatest obstacle you will face as a leader might be your own achievement. My friend Rick Warren says it this way, “The greatest detriment to tomorrow’s success is today’s success.”
John Maxwell teaches a very helpful principle: pay now—play later. We all pay in life. Anything we get will exact a price from us—and the longer we wait to pay, the greater the price. A successful life is a series of trade-offs.
I’ve found that the higher you go, the harder it is to make trade-offs. Why? As we climb higher, we have more, and we find it more difficult to let go of what we’ve worked for. Trade-offs become harder the more you have to lose.
This is difficult for most all of us. We want affirmation and approval from others. It’s human nature. But affirmation and approval should be the byproduct, not the goal. I ask myself this regularly—Do you want to be loved more than you want to lead?
The great leaders in history were great not because of what they owned or earned but because of what they gave their lives to accomplish. Something in human nature woos us to stay where we’re comfortable. But if you always choose security, you will sacrifice growth.
The temptation is almost always to go for the cash—the quick score. But go back to the principle of pay now, play later: if you are willing to sacrifice on the front end for the possibility of greater potential, you are almost always given greater chances for higher reward.
John Maxwell has always encouraged me to delay gratification when it comes to personal growth. He learned a long time ago that if you put off pleasures, conveniences, or luxuries in order to pursue personal growth opportunities you will never regret it.
The only way to go far is to specialize in something. If you study the lives of great men and women, you will find that they were very single-minded. Once you have found what you were created to do, make it your focus—and stick with it.
I once read that the president of a large publishing company sought out a wise man to get his advice. After describing the chaos of his life, he silently waited to hear something of value from the sage. The older man said nothing. He simply took a teapot and began pouring tea into a cup. He kept pouring until the tea overflowed and began to cover the table. “What are you doing?” The businessman exclaimed. The wise man smiled and said, “Your life is like a teacup, flowing over. There’s no room for anything new. You need to pour out, not take more in.”
People do not pay for average. They are not impressed by anything merely acceptable. If something is worth doing, give it your best—or don’t do it at all. Leaders cannot rise up on the wings of mediocrity.
If you are in the second half of life, you have probably spent much of your time paying the price for success. Don’t waste it! Be willing to trade it for significance. Do things that will live on after you are gone. If you are in the first half, keep paying the price so that you have something to offer in your second half.
If you are not a person of faith, then this may not make sense to you. However, if faith is a part of your life, remember that no matter how much value your work has, it cannot compare with a relationship with your Creator.