Handling success with grace

Connect Magazine

Spring 2017


Most of us know the basic formula for achieving success professionally: work hard, build solid relationships and do the tasks that lead to real achievement—not just busy work. 

However when we are successful, handling it with grace is not always so straightforward. In the business world, I often see very successful people slide into the “star zone,” a place where resting on laurels quickly leads to a rude awakening. 

In fact, I remember way back when my own success was going to my head, although at the time I wasn’t cognizant of this descent into Starland. But before I hit rock bottom, a wise old man took me aside and told me the truth about how I sounded. What a wakeup call! From that day forward, I stopped hustling to promote myself and tried harder to stay grounded. 

That same mentor taught me to accept praise politely, always responding with a simple “thank you.” Not downplaying my achievement, but not tooting my own horn, either. Like me, you may have hit a few homeruns in your organization, but that doesn’t qualify you for superstar status. Today’s savviest entrepreneurs know that achievement yesterday is no guarantee of success tomorrow. True leaders are always looking forward, not backward. 

It’s the opposite of ‘all about you’

We also tend to see success as a solitary feat, but the truth is very few of us achieve any kind of success alone. Rather, most accomplishments are the product of our efforts in a team environment. Our relationships with those around us mean everything, and we can leverage them by cooperating with our peers, treating our employees with respect and communicating clearly with the boss.   

Early in my retail career there was one guy who drew the most admiration in this area: Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, who for years Forbes ranked the richest man in America. The measure of “Mr. Sam’s” success was not the massive number of items his company sold, but rather that he alone could make you feel like you were priority No. 1. Talking to “Mr. Sam” was like talking with your best friend. 

He was constantly curious about which products were selling and how he could improve his stores, which required talking to people on the sales floor. Wal-Mart was never about him; good business was about customers, associates, products and stores. And when he left the store, it was in an older pickup truck. That image of humility stuck with me. Mr. Walton never let success go to his head. 

Handling success with grace means finding time for other people and then always putting those folks first. No matter how successful you are, stay closer to the ground than the stars and you will earn the respect and admiration of everyone around you.


Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company

For more on leadership see joescarlett.com

Or write Joe at Joe@joescarlett.com

Comments and Discussion:

Grace in the Marketplace

Posted May 31, 2017 at 2:56 PM by Sherwood MacRae
Two subjects I love. First is grace as applied in the market place and Sam Walton, an exponent of such. I happened to meet him when he had 6-7 stores and he was interested in a portfolio of former Montgomery Ward executives that I had thought he would like to consider for his expanding enterprises. He drove to Dallas where I had an office and we wound up talking in the cab of that old truck. He was amazed at the potential cost of hiring two or three on the top prospects and when I told him of our fees, it was out of the question. He thanked me for the opportunity to review the prospects, but then assured me, he could afford to train new people for less than the cost of relocating my prospects. And he said it in such a way that I could easily accept his decision. I wished him well and we departed, leaving me with little doubt that he would succeed as he went on to prove.

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