My friend had just taken his company public. He was worth a fortune (think winning the lottery every week for a year).
I wanted to know the details, so I said: “You had a big vision. You fought for it every day. Naysayers lined your path. Yet you never gave up. And now you’re the CEO of a publicly traded company that has pioneered an entire industry. How does it feel to have achieved such success?”
He replied, “I don’t judge my success based on our stock price or how much money I have in the bank—or even what I leave to my kids. I judge my success based on how many of my employees leave our company to start their own business.”
I was stunned by his answer. It was not at all what I was expecting.
He continued, “The biggest mark I can leave is not the amount of wealth I create for myself, but how I teach and inspire my employees to create their own wealth.”
I found this shocking, not only because if I were in his shoes I’d at least get one fancy car, but also because his company is consistently rated one of the best places to work in the entire state of Texas—and that’s a big state. Yet here he was saying that success, to him, was all about empowering his employees to leave his company and start their own entrepreneurial journey.
The more I thought about my own definition of success—which, over time, has changed from a fast car to quality time at the park with my 3-year-old daughter—the more I realize success is never truly achieved. It’s a journey of personal growth.
When we help others achieve their goals, like starting a company or a nonprofit, we give our employees the opportunity to recreate the same scenario with their own employees. The cycle continues, and generations benefit from it.
If you’re a business owner yourself, you may be wondering, “But what about retention?”
Encouraging employees to leave their jobs to start their own businesses flies in the face of an all-important employee metric: retention. But as my friend shared with me, the more he helps his employees develop the skill set and mindset needed to start their own businesses, the more talented employees he attracts to his own company.
I recently saw the cycle firsthand.
One of my friend’s former employees sent me an email about his new startup. His company is getting all kinds of media attention and attracting talented employees from across the country—just like my friend’s did.
I finally got it.
Success is not buying a sports car, taking your company public for $500 million or retiring early, but rather helping others to pave their own paths so they can impact the world in their own positive ways. Wealth is what we give to others to pass on through their own actions, lives and journeys.
And that is why I keep that old Corvette poster from eighth grade in my garage—to remind me that how we define success changes as we do. (And maybe, just maybe, my daughter will want that poster someday. That, or she’ll think it’s cool I have a picture of an antique hanging on the wall!)
This article was published in October 2014 and has been updated. Photo by @lermont51/Twenty20