7 Success Killers Even Top Leaders Miss

Carey Nieuwhof at SXSW 2019

Last Saturday, at South by Southwest, I attended Carey Nieuwhof’s 7 “Success Killers Even Top Leader Miss”session.These are my notes.

I enjoyed the presentation and the relevance of this for me is tremendous. If you’re a leader, an entrepreneur, watch out for these things.

What does it take to be a leader? He thought all it took was skill and knowledge, talent or ability – but these are not everything. I thought like this too.

Blind spots, they can get you.

Here are the 7 success killers, in sequence as presented by Carey Niewhof.

  1. Cynicism
    • Puts a cap in leadership
    • Range from optimistic, realist, cynic
    • Cynicism starts not because you don’t care but because you do
    • Knowledge is the root of cynicism 
    • Hard to make new friends
    • The antidote to cynicism is to hope again, to believe again, I gotta trust again, open heart again
    • Daily hack: just be curious – the more you’re curious the less you become cynic
  2. Compromise
    • Competency gets you in the room
    • Character keeps you in the room
    • Children POV on funerals—did Dad value me? Nothing to do with career metrics, nothing to do with legacy
    • If people in your team cannot stand being same room with you, that’s a different story
    • Integrity 
    • Compromise is the gap between who you and what you can be
    • Work twice as hard on your character as you do on your competency
  3. Disconnection
    • Solitude is a gift
    • Isolation is a curse
    • Hurry is the enemy of intimacy
    • There’s a trade off: if you want to connect to the people around you, then you need to slow down
    • Love has a speed and it’s slower than you are
    • Speed of culture, speed of everything—we need to slow down
  4. Irrelevance
    • That’s not a challenge probably for people attending SXSW
    • The gap between how quickly things change and how quickly you change is called irrelevance
    • The older your company is, the more irrelevant it is
    • This smells like 2006
    • The older you get, the harder you have to work at it
    • Antidote to irrelevance is change
    • Steve Jobs didn’t ask BlackBerry permission to remove keyboard
    • Culture never asks permission to change, it just changes
    • Relevance is permission to speak into the culture
    • Unimplemented change becomes regret
    • People change when the pain associated with status quo is greater than pain of change
    • In your company, keep the level of discontent with status quo high
  5. Pride
    • It’s not just the narcissists
    • Pride at its heart is an obsession with self 
    • Only humility will get you out of what pride got you into
    • Humiliation is involuntary humility 
    • If you have a sober view of yourself, it’s good
    • Humble is a habit
    • How to practice humble? Push other people into the spotlight
  6. Burnout
    • Like falling off a cliff
    • Getting out of bed in morning but boy is it difficult
    • Lost passion in life – couldn’t sleep it off
    • You can’t live this way anymore
    • Low level burnout—life still functions but there’s no joy in it
    • Cure: find a new normal
    • Get counseling, get coaching 
    • Activities 10x, energy level 10x
    • Live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow 
    • Eat better, sleep better
    • Get a lot better at saying no
  7. Emptiness
    • Being grateful doesn’t make you feeling full
    • A tale of two kingdoms. The “kingdom of me”, then there is the “kingdom beyond you”
    • There is no end to sad discontent of focusing only on you
    • Life devoted to self usually leaves you alone
    • Antidote: process of giving your life away, you find it

You can find and subscribe to Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast at:


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