Everyone wants success, but few consider the dangers that come with it. Wise leaders — especially those experiencing some measure of success — should be aware.
This came to mind most recently on a vacation in Flagstaff when I was walking through a bookstore and came upon Wooden: A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis. The quote on the front page was so striking that I took a photo of it:
Very interesting. Wooden seems to be saying that some success is great, but a lot of success is such a dangerous challenge that you’d only wish it on your enemies. By the way, Wooden would know — he won ten national championships in a 12-year period, including seven in a row.
After seeing this quote, I was preparing some messages for a men’s retreat related to the Joseph story. In reading Tim Keller’s study guide about Joseph, Living in a Pluralistic Society, he makes the point that the success Joseph had in Potiphar’s house inevitably led to the temptation from Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:5-7). Then he described five dangers that come from success:
1. Success breeds an over-confidence in one’s opinions. Successful people have had their hunches pay off very well. As a result, they now over-trust their hunches in almost every category of thought and life. Though they may have been successful in one area, they tend to feel that they are experts in other areas as well. (Temptation to pride)
2. Success breeds spiritual sluggishness. We feel secure in our money or our acclaim and this masks our need for God. As you get older, you may learn that success does not make you immune from heartache, disease, death, broken relationships — and you are as helpless and in need of God as anyone else. But at first, success makes you feel you don’t need God. (Temptation to indifference)
3. Success attracts envy and resentment on the part of others, who will try to use you and manipulate you or bring you down. Often you will find that success has brought you into strategems that you did not have the wisdom to handle. Successful people can become extremely mistrustful of people as a result. (Temptation to cynicism and isolation)
4. Success makes you completely unprepared for inevitable failures. It lures you into thinking that life will be a bowl of cherries. (Temptation to naïveté)
5. Success in money or fame inevitably leads to sexual temptation. Many people are attracted to power and success and will throw themselves sexually at you if you have it. (Temptation to impurity)
What’s the conclusion? Should leaders sandbag their gifts and strengths and aim for mediocrity? Should we bury our talents?
But we should be very careful to heed the Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 4:16 to “keep a close watch on yourself.” We should surround ourselves with trusted friends who can see these dangers in us and point them out. We must be aware of these dangers and fight them.