How to Overcome (and Prevent) Success Disease

The economy has improved, but it’s going to take more than circumstance to stay ahead. Get your team back to the basics with these five easy steps.

As of 2014, 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.

Whatever the cause for success disease, individuals and companies must fight it with all their hearts and souls because at some point, the circumstances hindering their success will surpass their abilities. That’s when they will stop winning (i.e., growing). Organizations can ensure they remain stable by cultivating a culture of working hard during any economic situation. Sometimes a losing season is exactly what a sales professional or company needs to snap out of it and start pursuing mastery again. An even better approach, though, is to prevent the disease altogether. Here are five tips to prevent success disease and get team members to engage and support an ongoing learning process:

1. Preach/adopt an underdog mentality. Former NFL Coach Bill Walsh said the only cure for success disease is adopting an underdog mentality—a mindset that keeps you saying, “I have to work like no one else so I can win like no one else.” From this day forward, work like nobody else. Whenever you are selling to prospects, making follow-up calls, promoting to new markets, or asking for referrals, pursue self-improvement through training above all else. Selling will keep you paid today, and training will keep you ahead of future circumstances so you’ll get paid tomorrow.

Adopt the mindset that you must fight for each sale or “win.”

2. Hold yourself/your team accountable to the standards. As a company or as an individual, there will be times when you will be able to make your goal without upholding the standards. Don’t let the “good times” make you lower your guard. Never lower your level of performance, whether the economy and market are hot or not. Always remember the basics. Following the standards must be more sacred to you than the results alone.

3. Celebrate effort, rather than just results. Former NBA Coach John Wooden said that if his team played perfectly but lost, he still celebrated their efforts. On the flip side, if they played horribly but won, he didn’t celebrate. He showed them where to improve. By celebrating effort, companies, leaders, and individuals acknowledge that what each sales pro does matters. It also breaks down the mentality that sales come from the “sales gods.”

Recognize that sales professionals can create the sale and/or make it happen faster by making the right “plays.” When individuals and leaders reinforce that effort makes a difference, they contribute to a constructive culture.

4. Celebrate milestones…and then move on. One part of a constructive culture (where learning and growing is encouraged) is to highlight areas where there has been improvement. People get worn out when they feel they’re never going to be good enough. You can celebrate milestones by adding graduation sessions throughout the year and having team members share how much they’ve grown. There is always a marked increase in excitement and engagement directly following those graduations. Celebrating small victories increases achievement drive and motivation.

When it comes to developing people or improving yourself, you might get impatient. Be careful that it doesn’t turn into, “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” That’s when it’s easy to get tired and lose hope. Pursue mastery, not perfection.

Let yourself/your team celebrate the victory—but not too long. Be sensitive to overpraising, and, therefore, creating lazy hearts and minds.

5. Embrace a lifetime of learning. Most people spend their early lives learning. But when they turn 21 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.

Jason Forrest is Chief Sales Officer at Forrest Performance Group ( He is a sales trainer, management coach, and member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group and Entrepreneur’s Organization. He is the author of six books, including “Leadership Sales Coaching.” One of Training magazine’s 2012 Top Young Trainers, Forrest also has won Stevie Awards for Sales Training Leader (2013) and for Sales Coaching Training Program of the Year (2014).