Success for me has never been about the money, or the moves up the corporate ladder.
Are those some of the benefits of hard work, more than a dozen geographic moves, continuous global travel, and great people supporting me on the team? Absolutely. But I measure my own success more broadly: the strength of my family, the rewards that come from giving back, the successes of those I’ve mentored. Through it all, I’m always trying to listen and learn, and if I can do that, I am succeeding.
I realize none of this is tangible; there was no absolute life moment when I knew I’d succeeded. Instead, I have always based my life on principles that have transcended every step, instilled in me early on by my parents, friends, teachers, and coaches. Later, these guidelines were reinforced by mentors at work:
- Have I lived my life with dignity and respect for others and myself?
- Have I asked others to do something I wouldn’t do myself?
- Will my community be better for my having been there?
- Have I given back and helped others?
So these life standards – and perhaps you share them, too – are the ways I measure success. Goals, on the other hand – both personal and professional – are something very different. I’ve had plenty of those over the years, too.
Take my first professional job back in 1971. I was a manufacturing engineer in a training program at GE making $9,600 a year. I told my wife that my goal was to someday draw a six-figure salary. Back then, success for me was to reach two to three levels above me, and become a unit manager.
Even back in ’71, I realized that the best way to advance professionally was to volunteer for additional assignments outside my primary job and deliver well beyond expectations. It is far better to challenge yourself and deliver, I found, than to wait for someone to ask you to do the work. With that activist philosophy, I obtained my MBA, further expanding my knowledge base and making myself more competitive.
One caveat: Although I was always competitive, that competitive spirit was never about doing better than someone else — the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. My goal was always to continue to better myself as I focused on the job at hand… and listen, learn, and then lead. If I did a good job and was fortunate enough to get a promotion, benefits inevitably came with that.
Of course my goals evolved as I continued to challenge myself: run a department, run a division, run a company… I’ve continuously raised the bar, because success can breed complacency. I want to constantly improve.
I’m realistic though: Today – at 68 – I doubt I’ll be running another public corporation. However, I appreciate the fact that I can work in an advisory capacity, helping businesses double their revenue, expand, and develop their talent. I know I’m making a difference when these businesses succeed, and their people flourish. Best of all? Watching those I’ve worked with move on to run their own companies.
Success isn’t just about business, of course. Most important? My children, and now my grandchildren. Making sure they are safe and healthy is first and foremost. My wife and I taught our children to choose wisely but follow their own path (they’ve all chosen livelihoods that are quite a bit different from mine, and we support them absolutely). Through it all, we hope to have imparted to them those principles I mentioned earlier. If we did that, we’ve succeeded.
And success means giving back – helping to educate students of limited means through Cristo Rey Atlanta, working with the voluntary service organization Points of Light, providing my expertise to the Savannah College of Art & Design, helping veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project, to name a few. My own success would be meaningless if I didn’t use it in some way to help others.
I truly believe we all have an infinite capacity to improve on everything we do in our lives, from our relationships to family and friends, to our careers, to the contributions we make to the community. So while I’ve never had an “aha” moment where I knew I’d succeeded, I can see my successes every day.
During his 45 years in the business world, Bob Nardelli has grown the sales and profits of a number of multi-national corporations including the General Electric Co. and The Home Depot, and he helped save Chrysler and its iconic brands when the American auto industry began to collapse. In addition to his board and volunteer service, he is the founder of XLR-8, LLC, Investment & Advisory Co., which helps companies identify weaknesses and improve performance. Read more about Bob at www.bobnardelli.com.
More posts on this topic:
- “Success Is a Moving Target. Here’s How I Know When I’ve Hit the Mark.” — Suze Orman, television host, author, motivational speaker, producer
- “Exit Interviews Reveal What Your Employees Really Think. Are You Ready?” — Shane Atchison, CEO at Possible
- “If I Can Help Women Invest Better, My Life Will Have Made an Impact” — Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-founder of Ellevest
- “I Thought I Was Short on Time; Now I’m Long on Meaning” — Maynard Webb, Chairman, Yahoo!; Former COO, eBay
- “Maybe Woody Allen Was Right — 80% of Success Is Just Showing Up” — Whitney Johnson, thinker, author, speaker, advisor, coach
- “How to Turn the To-Do List into a ‘Winner List’” — Naomi Simson, Founding Director, RedBalloon; Author, Blogger, Speaker
- “Wisdom from My Grandfather: You’re Only in Trouble When Life Stops Being Interesting” — Nicholas Thompson, Editor of NewYorker.com
- “When Was the Last Time You Were ‘in the Zone’?” — Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Warby Parker
- “Why I’ve Learned to Celebrate the Daily Successes” — Marcus Samuelsson, Chef and Author at Marcus Samuelsson Group