Only seven teams have won the Super Bowl twice in a row: Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh (they did it twice), San Francisco, Dallas, Denver, and New England. Not one of these teams has won three times in a row. In baseball, only two teams have won the World Series three or more times consecutively: Oakland and the New York Yankees.

This is because of success disease—an arrogance of the mind that says the next win is based on a previous victory. Companies are especially prone to this attitude when market conditions are good. Sales pros and company leadership think that because they’ve been successful for a season, they can sit back and watch the sales roll in. When the virus corrupts an individual’s attitude, it easily spreads to a team and results in people taking on a complex that makes them think they’re invincible. This makes organizations vulnerable to circumstances rather than remaining stable in every economy.

I see success disease affecting hardworking sales professionals and teams all the time. They bust their butts to learn and grow, and then once they start winning sales, contracts, and profits, they stop learning and growing. It also can happen because of a few easily won sales they mistakenly believe they caused—while, in reality, the real reason was just a great market, a niche product, solid marketing, or an unbeatable price.

The best way to beat success disease? Focus on being better than you were yesterday.

So often we get caught up in this rat race of trying to be better than our competitors, or better than our teammates, or sometimes even better than our bosses. At FPG, we’d identify this behavior as playing to compete. This might sound like a positive thing on the outside, but it can really kill businesses from the inside out. Instead of judging your progress on your own skills and past behaviors, employees playing to compete are treating their teammates like the adversary. This is what happens when sports teams get success disease: they think they’re the best, so they start competing against each other. And that always torpedos success.

Instead of competing, I want to challenge you to do three “above the line” behaviors that we identify as culturally and personally beneficial.

  • Play for improvement

  • Play for challenge

  • Play for mastery

What do all three of these things have in common? They’re inwardly focused first and foremost. They’re all about improving yourself, challenging yourself and mastering yourself. Instead of constantly comparing yourself to others, which creates a sense that you’re not enough, compare yourself to… yourself.

This is the core of a successful sports team, and it’s also the core of a successful work culture. If you have a group of employees all playing for personal improvement, you’ll have a winning team forever.

The biggest key here is to embrace a lifetime of learning. Most people spend their early lives learning. But when they turn 22 and graduate college, society says they’re good enough (roughly translated: Stop learning).

The belief that formal education is complete education leads to success disease. To overcome success disease, organizations need to create corporate cultures where people are given the tools to learn and grow every day, just like when they were in school.

While the economy has improved and it’s an easier time for many organizations, there’s danger in getting lazy or lowering the standard. Stay on your game. Embrace opportunities to grow and learn. Enjoy the journey. Take the necessary steps to prevent success disease now rather than having to recover from it after it already has taken root.

In order to avoid that success disease, focus on always being better than you were yesterday.

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