How Highly Successful People Think Differently from Others

Growing up and later working in Naples, Florida, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and even working with many successful people.

Bear in mind that when I say “successful,” I’m not specifically referring to people who have achieved affluence (although there are plenty of people in this area who fall into that category), but to people who are living the life they want to live. Having money is not the evidence of a good life: you can be affluent and still be frustrated at work, in debt, lonely, sick, and miserable. When I see successful people, I see people who are choosing to live life on their terms – they may have money, but they have the satisfaction and contentment that money can’t buy: good relationships, healthy boundaries, a strong marriage and kids, clear time management, realistic goals and plans, good health…whatever represents success to them. Money is actually the least of these.

I found that, by and large, successful people have a different way of thinking from the rest of us. In fact, the only significant difference I can find between successful people and the rest is the way they think.

Not What You Think

For example, the millionaires I have gotten to know are usually warm, gracious people with great people skills. They make people comfortable around them. They are not bigoted and judgmental, but rather are open-minded and accepting of others. It takes real people skills to be successful in anything: you can’t build a company, a practice, a school, a team, or a family if no-one wants to be around you. The ability to genuinely care about and honor other people draws people to you, whereas a big ego, the need to be right all the time, and the need to get credit for wins pushes people away. Nobody ever gets rich on their own – they get rich because of their ability to work well with others.

We’ve all seen exceptions – the pushy, arrogant jerks who make their millions mistreating people. Often, when I meet a wealthy person who is a grouchy or arrogant old blowhard, I find out later that their “wealth” was a facade. You may notice that they don’t have loving families at home. They don’t have coworkers or employees who speak well of them. Their social lives are all fabricated. People generally don’t like to be around them, except when they have to be (or are being paid to be). Often, their golden years are ruined with poor health – inflammation brought on by unforgiveness and bitterness, organ toxicity from drinking their problems away, or cancer rooted in years of unrelenting stress.

One book that was influential in my discovery of successful people was “The Millionaire Next Door,” by Thomas J. Stanley. This powerful study of human behavior showed that truly wealthy people were not the ones with the flashy houses and cars – it was people who had LESS than a million dollars that put on all that bling to impress people. It transformed my understanding of wealth and success.

There are several things I’ve observed since then that I’ll share in the coming weeks, but I want to start with a big one: successful people don’t feel the need to be right all the time.

Have you ever met someone that never makes a mistake (or at least never accepts that they made a mistake)? It’s very off-putting. Any time they do something that doesn’t work out the way they thought it would, they find someone else to blame. They spin the story to show that someone else’s choices caused them to fail. They always have an excuse. When they don’t get the promotion they expected, they say that someone was out to get them, or the system was rigged against them. When they say something wrong and someone corrects them, they get defensive. When they make a mistake, they deflect responsibility.

Why Do They Act Like That?

All this self-protection is rooted in fear. They are afraid people will see that they aren’t perfect, or that they have a weakness in some area. They can’t stand the thought that they aren’t the best, smartest, or highest authority. They are afraid they will lose something valuable if they don’t keep up the facade of having it all together, whether it is a position, money, prestige, influence, or good standing. They may be afraid that people won’t like them if they aren’t perfect (because they don’t like people who aren’t perfect). Ironically, this defensive, perfectionist behavior is instinctively offensive to people. It’s so immature and selfish, it drives people away.

Look at the people around you who lead successful organizations, companies, or families. You will usually find that they accept responsibility for their mistakes right away. The buck always stops with them, even when they could legitimately pass the blame to someone else. They apologize quickly and sincerely. They accept blame without passing any. They learn from the incident. In fact, they are always learning from others. 

When you’re a leader, you make mistakes, people around you make mistakes, and people under you make mistakes. Real leaders take it on the chin and grow from it. Wannabe leaders distribute blame to everyone but themselves. I heard a great coach say it this way:

“When the team wins, the leader distributes the praise to others; when the team loses, the leader pulls all the responsibility to himself.”

That’s really difficult for most people to do. It takes enormous humility. It requires you to die to yourself and your own agenda, and put others first. I have to admire people who can do it consistently. I’m still growing in this, but it’s worth developing. People want to be around a person like this. It’s admirable, and it makes people feel safe around you. They know you won’t attack them or throw them under the bus. That’s the kind of leader I want to be.

Do you know a leader who represents these leadership qualities? Share this article with them, or describe them in the comments on Facebook. I bet they didn’t even know that you noticed.

I’ll see you next week on “Move Right Monday.”

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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