I sat across the table from an elderly gentleman a little over 30 ago. He said, with great intuitiveness, “I see you becoming successful and highly recognized in your city. As you move forward in your career, make sure you take your wife along.” I did not fully grasp the meaning of what he was saying or truly meant, but I never forgot those words. That same message came to me again some time ago through a successful businessperson who shared his own personal experience with me.
He told me that he and his wife had been college sweethearts. They studied the same major but were running different businesses. Hers was a one-location retail store; his business was comprised of a much larger group of companies offering diversified areas of service and expertise across several industries. The husband’s businesses flourished financially, while his wife’s business continued on with average performance.
As these gaps arose between their individual levels of success, it actually put their marriage at risk. He did not understand what she was complaining about at first, but he got it eventually. They decided to absorb her business into his group of businesses. She was placed appropriately as a director with all the benefits. It was this new communicative approach that made more sense all around. This was when he gained a great insight: Slowly closing in the gap, which had widened greatly in terms of career progress, brought peace. This speaks to the essence of leadership. We should be mindful of the progress of those traveling with us on life’s journey.
People sometimes think that failure is what provides consequences, when — in truth — success can have the same issues. Dealing with the consequences of success is not an easy thing for any relationship. Someone is always going to be gaining more speed or experiencing more recognition than the other. It is never equal on all levels. It’s give and take, up and down for all sides.
You may or may not be conscious of it, but a person’s success often alters the structure of the relationships around them. Great success can easily affect your relationship with your spouse, members of your family, your friends, and your colleagues at work. Why does a person’s success influence the people around them? It’s often just human nature. Teamwork and more intimate relationships may start off on a very supportive platform of love and understanding. But when one person pulls ahead and receives recognition and admiration from others because of what they’ve achieved, often the relationships within that circle begin to suffer. Human nature sends a serious question: Why not me? Or why should it be him? Or why should it be her?
The elements that go into making someone successful may also attract not just admiration but envy or even jealousy. This is when people begin to act differently or become unkind.
Success inspires. It convinces people of what may be possible. Your success may have the potential to offer inspirational value. You can do the world a lot of good when you share authentic and heartfelt stories of real-world challenges and triumphs. Some may be happy for you, and some may not. It is common to witness success provoke envy or even cause resentment. There’s an old adage: “When resentment walks through the door, love flies out the window.” Again, human behavior can be a mystery. As a successful entrepreneur or businessperson, it is your responsibility to be an example of goodness and patience toward others. Everyone wins when genuine concern and patience are given to the person struggling. Ask yourself, how can I be more helpful?
Here are a few ways that I have learned to diagnose and then correct and help redirect behaviors that might stand in the way of everyone moving forward. I simply ask…
- Why is this person compelled to downplay others’ achievements? How can I help them see the benefits to themselves?
- If the person seems to celebrate my struggles and difficulties, why are they doing so? Is it insecurity? Or is it something I’ve done or said?
- Is this person trying to take credit for what I have done? Does he or she imitate my steps and effort? Can I talk with them to clear the air and get a clearer understanding that we are all a team? I am here to help.
- Am I receiving honest and sincere compliments or is this phony flattery at play?
- Is there manipulative advice being given to limit my progress? How so?
- Is there mean or hateful behavior taking place? Is it best for this person to leave the team?
Ways to work with someone struggling with envy issues or insecurities:
- Don’t brag unnecessarily. Sometimes success gets to your head. No one is better than anyone else. The ego can really get in the way of building strong, healthy relationships. Put ego aside. Remember that low self-esteem and lack of confidence can be really difficult. People want someone to believe in them. We all need positive feedback and support. Ask what you can do to raise the level of confidence in your teammates and raise the bar of human behavior. Don’t play into the hands of people who don’t care as much as you do.
- Success changes things. It also changes people — hopefully for the better. Take time to speak with people one-on-one. Never humiliate or patronize someone. Listen. That is the most valuable tool. Leaders who succeed listen carefully. Ask relevant questions. Find out how people are really doing. Sometimes things are happening behind the scenes you may not know about. People have personal lives, too, and often there can be trouble at home or sickness. Keep it professional but give people a chance to share their concerns with you. Assure people of their importance to you and everyone else. Block time to renew friendships and spend time together when possible.
- Help those around you find their own level of success. Everyone is different. Everyone has his or her own capacity for growth and success. There is no right or wrong way of getting there as long as things are honest and honorable. Validate others’ achievements. Give praise. Don’t wait for months to say something encouraging. Say it now. Be grateful. Success can be fleeting.
- Help them to succeed. The starting point is for you to share your knowledge and insights. Perspective is one of the greatest gifts you can give anyone. It is empowering and life-changing. Then take practical steps to help others. Lift spirits, and you’ll lift people.
- Don’t fall prey to bitterness. Confrontation is not a bad thing. It is people coming together to resolve issues. Speak to your spouse, your best friend, other team members, or new associates. Often things can be worked out. And when it’s not meant to be, people will move on. That can be the best outcome when you’ve exhausted every opportunity. It’s alright to say goodbye when it is in the best interest of all parties involved.
Practice self-awareness — happiness and success start within.
We often start repairing relationships when we work on ourselves. Success and happiness start from the inside out, not the other way around. Self-awareness is key and can help to closely manage our thoughts, emotions, and actions. That’s when we begin to recognize the impact on others. Relate to others with emotional intelligences, like empathy and compassion. Most people want to see us succeed and be a part of our lives. See the good in others first, and you’ll give people a chance to appreciate your success and their own success, no matter what a person earns or the level at which they operate. I explain this in detail in my book “Dear Leader: Your Flagship Guide to Successful Leadership.” Remain relatable, and you will be able to bridge any gap.
About: Atlanta-based Dr. Sam Adeyemi (SAY: Ah Day yeh me) is the founder and executive director of Daystar Leadership Academy (DLA). More than 45,000 alumni have graduated from DLA programs, and more than 3 million CEOs and high-performing individuals follow him on top social media sites. Dr. Sam’s new book is “Dear Leader: Your Flagship Guide to Successful Leadership.” He holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Virginia’s Regent University and is a member of the International Leadership Association. He and his wife, Nike (say Nee keh), have three children and founded Daystar Christian Centre in Lagos, Nigeria. Learn more at SamAdeyemi.com.
By Sam Adeyemi, PhD