In the beginning, we are all faced with new challenges with very few real world experiences to rely upon. The challenges can be as varied as learning to take you first baby steps, entering college, or your first real job. In all these challenges we will fall down, wail, hurt our pride, but eventually we “get it” and start being successful. Frequently our successes are actually quite remarkable and we are well rewarded with a new binky or a new car. New challenges will appear and we all will naturally try to apply what we learned from our previous successes. It worked before, it should work again…
In many situations simply putting one step in front of the other doesn’t work and you fall off your bike and are once again forced to learn a new balanced solution and a new success. However, there are a few instances where the lessons from your first success are applicable to the second, further reinforcing that you really “get it.” Repeat this a couple more times and you are really “in the groove,” you have become the master. Unfortunately you may be in an environment that is leading you astray, your success is actually shallow and you have a manager that that values that success at all cost. The approach that has allowed you to be successful on your first small project, one with few interactions with others, may give others on a larger team project a serious rash on their buttocks. Without the proper ointment this can cause you to be a serious victim of your own success and your ability to gain further rewards is suddenly hampered by your inability to translate personal success into larger team success.
There are two important factors that can help prevent you from becoming a victim, self-awareness and strong management. When you are being rewarded for your success on a team, be sure to look around and see how many of your peers are there standing with you. How many of them have been successful because of you? Are you the catalyst on the team or the sole superstar? You want to be the person whom others ask to be on their team because they think you will make them better.
The second factor is having an honest manager who values your growth as much as the project’s success. If you interview any famous actor, musician, or athlete after a performance they will be able to recount the mistakes that were made and small improvements that need to be worked on, even when they appear to be flawless. A good coach must balance their positive feedback with a healthy dose of constructive criticism to improve both the player and the team. It is most important that the coach not shelter the star who scores 50 points a game, while such a star can carry a team to many wins, when up against solid group of players working as a single team the individual star will usually lose. The coach must be willing to make the short term sacrifice of the individual that is necessary to build the collective strength of the team.
If you have had a history of being successful as an individual, but despite your best efforts your team is struggling, it may be that you don’t need to work harder, just differently. If your manager is giving you uncritical praise, challenge them to be honest with you or seek out other’s feedback. Don’t be a victim of your own success, actively seek out new and different success!