If You Want to Be Successful, You Have to Know What Success Means

If You Want to Be Successful, You Have to Know What Success Means

According to Sir Alex Ferguson Part of the way you develop excellence in an organisation is to be careful about the way you define success. He  was always careful about setting specific, long-range targets. HE would never say, ‘We expect to win the League and two pieces of silverware this season. First, it conveys the wrong message, because it sounds cocky and arrogant. Second, it applies a lot of additional pressure on everyone without any real benefit. Third, it sets everyone up for disappointment. It was much easier to say, ‘At United we expect to win every game,’ because that was the case from about 1993 and it also conveyed the spirit of the club. Making sure everyone understood that we expected to triumph in every game set an agenda of excellence and allowed me to regularly administer booster-shots of intensity

You have to set up each individual for success, which requires considered thought. At United the press would always ask him at the start of the season what his hoped to achieve. He canned response was to tell them that we wanted to win one trophy and we didn’t care which one it was. He was careful not to build up false expectations or place too much pressure on everyone. It is counterproductive. However, they never went two consecutive seasons without a major trophy between his first piece of silverware at United and the end of his career, a period of 23 years. Based on his story, winning anything requires a series of steps. You cannot win the League with one giant leap. So he would be careful to divide everything up into digestible chunks. Nobody is going to take a climbing team to the foot of Everest, point to the summit and say ‘Okay, lads, get up there.’ At the start of the season he would avoid communicating any particular objective with the players. His  comments to the press about wanting to win a trophy were reasonably generic and the squad were used to these expectations anyway. He would only start to become less vague in November as the shape of the season and the form of our rivalries became clear. At that point, as the afternoons shortened, I would say to the players, ‘If we’re first, second or third, or within three points of the lead, on New Year’s Day, we have a fantastic chance.'

This post is adapted from new book Leading, 
By Sir Alex Ferguson with Michael Moritz, and published by Hodder & Stoughton.



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