Finding the Balance Between Success and Satisfaction

When evaluating achievements in life – personal or professional – we often view these experiences through two lenses: success and satisfaction. These value metrics are equally important, yet completely different. Success is an outward value metric. Did we accomplish our goals? Was the project delivered on time? Did we meet our numbers? Satisfaction, on the other hand, is an internal measurement. How did I feel about the project or process? Would I want to repeat the experience? Did I enjoy working with this team? Success is easy to measure and tends to be the yardstick used by most managers, but satisfaction is all too often overlooked. In my early years as a CEO, I focused too much on the success metric and gave no time or attention to the satisfaction metric. This resulted in little to no satisfaction within the company despite the amount of success achieved, something that’s all too familiar in the corporate world.

Satisfied Customers and Broken Employees

When I first began my entrepreneurial career, I led a services business that created and delivered technical training and documentation to large telecom companies. Every employee and contractor knew that I demanded one thing from all of them: “Never miss a deadline.” It may have seemed like a lofty goal, as customers appreciate you delivering on time, but what I completely overlooked was the dark side of never missing a deadline. What was this rigid focus doing to my employees? What expectations did it give to our clients? Would it have been better to push back on customers from time to time when the expectations weren’t realistic or when scope creep reared its ugly head? Though it may seem like this would mean sacrificing customer satisfaction, the quality of work being delivered and the happiness of your employees are irreplaceable and important facets in the maintaining of the product completion cycle and symbiotic work relationships. This blind allegiance to deadlines falls under the “no good deed goes unpunished” umbrella. The more miracles we pulled off, the more the customers demanded of us. What the customers and I didn’t see was that my desire to get things done was creating serious dissatisfaction in my team. I realized far too late that satisfied employees will always be more successful, and, as a leader, I should have taken the time to understand what values inspired my team. While some people thrive on execution, working in a pressure cooker is not fun for everyone – and it was that critical oversight that drove conflict, misunderstanding, and high turnover rates for the company.

Understanding Your Natural Tendencies

At the time, I didn’t have a good model to help me understand the mandatory elements associated with any successful project or process, nor how my employees’ unique gifts could fit in with each variable. By understanding the four phases of any project, it became easier to see the foundation of successful business operations.

  1. Someone has to have an idea.
  2. Someone has to create energy and excitement around that idea.
  3. Someone has to create structure by developing a detailed plan.
  4. Someone has to execute on that plan.

Remove any of those elements and your output is greatly diminished. At my first company, we were fantastic with steps one and four, but we were sorely lacking steps two and three. The reason our focus and proficiency was on steps one and four was because, without awareness, my own natural focus as a leader was there. I moved effortlessly from idea to action and expected my employees to be able to do the same. For years, these were the only two areas I valued, but I was missing half of what made a sustainable business. Both the company and my employees were paying the price. Recognizing where your focus and energy naturally lies is extremely beneficial in seeing the bigger picture. That means learning how to maximize success and identifying the areas of focus needed on your team that you don’t already bring to the table – all while maintaining satisfaction in what you do each and every day. Take the time to ask yourself: What phases of the project completion cycle are you overvaluing or undervaluing, and how is this showing up in your business and in your life?

Core Personal and Professional Motivators Are One in The Same  

It’s important to remind yourself each day that your value metrics aren’t limited to your professional life. In fact, the values you pursue in one area of your life will likely have a significant impact on the other. For example, with my first company, we mastered the outward success metric. We experienced 1100% growth in three years, were on the INC 500 list two years in a row, and received accolades and awards from multiple organizations. Despite this success, I was personally miserable. I was successful, but not satisfied. I wanted to do more and to give more. Although my schedule was insane, I took on several nonprofit projects in my personal time to fill the void created by leading a company that was not changing lives. I had realized that, in addition to my high need to compete and accomplish, I am also driven by creating harmony and equity. Because of this misalignment between my professional and personal work and that drive, my satisfaction bucket was empty – and that’s when I knew I had to make a change. Today, I am fortunate because the work I do does make a difference in people’s lives. It helps them understand what impulses drive their behavior and what creates success and satisfaction in their lives. Taking time to evaluate your personal and professional achievements, and to listen to those of others, allows you and your team to do better work, get more accomplished, and to do so happily.


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