What’s Your Definition of Success?

Last night, as I was telling the kids goodnight, I noticed that the movie Tin Cup was on television. I’m not a huge movie buff, but that’s one of the classics in my opinion. I walked in during the scene where Roy McAvoy has his chance to win in the U.S. Open golf tournament. Rather than play it safe, he decides to risk it all to make the shot of a lifetime. No one could understand why McAvoy was throwing away the win, but he simply had a different definition of success.

What success means to us determines how we live, how we work, and how we interact with others. In McAvoy’s case, he valued the immortality of doing something that had never been accomplished more than he valued winning the tournament, a feat duplicated every year. As leaders, we operate differently depending on our definition of success.

If we haven’t already established our own definition, it’s easy to adopt the definition of people around us. Many leaders experience a time when success means a bigger team or larger office. Candidly, I’ve been there too. Over time though, many of the best leaders go through a shift where new things become more important. Creating a sustainable practice and building the capabilities of our team become the new definition of success.

For some leaders, the shift never happens. Examine any tragedy and you usually find a leader at its center who failed to shift their definition of success. Even after it became clear that the path they were on would not achieve the results they wanted, they still didn’t evolve.

Make no mistake, our vision of success will be the thing that drives us. As leaders, we must be certain it’s the one that will take us where we truly want to go.

Tin Cup is a work of fiction, but the parallels still exist. Roy McAvoy knew that accomplishing something that would stand for all time was his vision of success. He didn’t want to merely become a name on a long list of tournament winners. His definition of success allowed him to depart from the conventional wisdom of what success should be and create his own path.

Randy Hall


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