Leaders Who Assume Success

Leaders assume that good results are the consequence of good performance. When they are successful they don’t ask why. ~Rasmus Ankersen

In the nonprofit world, sustainability is frequently used as the “marker” for success. I, personally, don’t care for that word. To me, sustainable means something like “we’re still hanging in there,” and maybe not much more than that. In the for-profit world the mantra I hear frequently is “we’re either growing or we’re dying.” I don’t particularly care for that imagery either. Growth, without careful consideration of the consequences and the landscape, does not assure success.

So now you may be asking, what should leaders be striving for if not sustainability or growth? I think that Rasmus Ankersen’s answer hits the nail on the head for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations – relevancy.

Ankersen says, “Leaders need to treat success with the same skepticism as failure to stay relevant.”

Ankersen’s background is in athletics, primarily football (soccer for those of us in the U.S.). Using game stats, Ankersen outlines a very persuasive statistical analysis that supports an “outcome bias,” meaning, “success turns luck into genius.” Yes, that’s right. Sometimes, teams (and organizations) win simply because of luck.

One of the organizations that Ankersen uses as an example is Nokia. They captured 50% of the mobile phone market. That share dropped rapidly to 3% in three years. Nokia very quickly lost their relevancy. They didn’t treat their success with the same skepticism as failure.

How can leaders help keep their organizations relevant?

Rethink your potential. You can do this with a simple exercise—make the world bigger and make yourself smaller. You might be operating from a perspective that you are a big fish in a small pond. Jump into a bigger pond, change the landscape, force yourself to rethink your potential.


LEGO for decades operated from the point of view of being in the toy industry. In recent years, they’ve altered that perspective to be in the children’s room industry. That means Apple is now a competitor. With that new mindset, they rethink their potential. They have a reinvigorated sense of urgency to be relevant in a new industry.

Borders operated as if they were in the brick and mortar bookstore industry. They stayed with that mindset as Amazon lived up to their name and quickly grabbed the e-book and online market ahead of one of the largest booksellers. Borders didn’t make the world bigger. They didn’t treat their success with the same skepticism as failure. They didn’t stay relevant. We all know how that story ended.

Leaders: Ask why when you fail and when you succeed. Rethink your potential. Make the world bigger and yourself smaller. Stay relevant.

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