Statue of Sokrates at the Academy of Athens in Greece

Success to Significance

As much time as I spend reading, writing and trying to practice what I preach, an interview with former University of Florida quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow a few weeks ago put a point on things for me.  He said something to the effect that success alone is unfulfilling.  You need to move from success to significance.  That piqued my interest…what’s the difference?  

Wikipedia tells us that Socrates was a Greek philosopher from Athens who is credited as the founder of Western philosophy and among the first moral philosophers of the ethical tradition of thought. One of the many quotes attributed to him is “an unexamined life is not worth living.” In his time, the people were generally set in their ways. Their government had developed beliefs which dictated their thoughts and challenging the system was punishable by banishment or even death.  

I don’t think anyone is going to be killed over their leadership style (at least not in O&P), but the idea creates a solid foundation for personal growth.  In fact, leadership expert John C. Maxwell wrote a book about this called “The 5 Levels of Leadership” in which he details a path people can take as they grow in their position.  We have talked about this in several blogs, but Maxwell summarizes the process well and provides some interesting insight into the stages.   

Maxwell, Tebow and Socrates are all saying that we have to be willing to let go of our personal ambition in order to be significant.  It is counter intuitive.  People often believe they are successful because they have everything they want. They have added value to themselves. They have created or run companies.  They have professional and monetary success.  They are firm in the belief that success is a personal attribute.  And it is.  But is it enough?  Is success sufficient?  This is what Socrates was asking.  Is this all there is?  He answers that with a resounding “No.”  We strive to be significant.  Without significance, success should feel hollow. 

Maxwell wrote “success is when I add value to myself. Significance is when I add value to others.” Tim Tebow asks: “If all your dreams came true, whose life would be different?”  Brett Powell, a leadership expert says “Success is about making an impact here and now primarily by what you do and what you accomplish. Significance is about creating a lasting legacy by who you are and the edifying presence you bring to others.” 

One really awesome thing about the work we do in this profession is the visibility of the successful work you do.  It would be hard to argue that the work is insignificant.  But is that the driver?  And are you, at the end of the day, solely focused on the patient?   

In the office and at home, are you striving for significance?  Are you a leader by title, or do people follow you because of who you are and what you represent?  To achieve that level of leadership, one must embrace the idea of servant leadership, putting the needs of others before themselves.  But don’t cast your pearls before the swine.  You have to build the culture that supports your own ability to grow.  The concept is simple.  The execution is hard.  

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