By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

Have you ever noticed how people who fail spectacularly are more often brought down by their gifts than by their shortcomings?

It’s true. When you’re in school, you’re plagued by the things that come hardest to you. But once you’re out in the “real world,” it’s your strengths that can actually trip you up.

The problem is that once we can put our weakest links off to the side and concentrate on what we know and do best, we can forget that we live in a complex support system and can begin to attribute our success solely to ourselves.

It’s tunnel vision of the worst kind.

We lose all perspective on reality, thinking our good fortune is due only to our virtues – intelligence, insight, strength, work ethic, whatever.

In contrast, a good, firm grasp on reality – which is essential for long-term happiness – requires that we always take time to be grateful.

Always a grace

Even the success that we’re inclined to think we deserve is actually a grace with comes to us from a complex series of causes, some for which we deserve credit and others for which we should be grateful.

For example, the person who looks back and attributes his or her success to “hard work” should also be grateful for good health.

And before you take credit for your own good health because of your great life choices and diligent workouts, remember that no amount of diligence will protect us from certain kinds of cancers or tumors or congenital conditions.

Whatever the nature of your success, it is always due to some factors beyond your control – some graces that you have been given.

If you can’t think of any, just remember that you did not cause your own birth. You’re here because you were one-anothered into existence. You owe two other people for that.

In his newest book, The Intelligent Leader: Unlocking the 7 Secrets to Leading Others and Leaving Your Legacy, executive coach John Mattone says there are three things you should do when you experience success. Grab a sheet of paper or a notebook and a pen and get busy:

  • describe your success;
  • then describe how you feel about it; and,
  • finally, but most important, list those who helped you achieve this success.

If you want to be an effective leader over the long haul, Mattone says It’s important, that you see yourself as someone who has benefitted from the assistance of others.

In that way we see ourselves as part of a vast network of interdependent players whose success depends on the contributions – intentional or otherwise – of others.

That perspective, according to Mattone, will help you avoid entitlement in favor of acknowledging your true role as a servant who helps others achieve.

A Christian advantage

Christians would seem to have an advantage here – if they truly take their awareness of God’s graciousness to heart. God gave us life … and loved us even before that. Jesus gave us eternal life. How can we not be grateful for such incredible and completely unmerited gifts?

Gratitude to God and to others – at least some of our neighbors – will save us from the narcissism of the age, a sense of entitlement that undermines our efforts to be S3 Jesus-like Leaders.

The formula is pretty simple: If you want to be great, start by being grateful.

As a matter of fact, start today.