The Source of Your Success

Though the old adage “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” alludes to a bystander’s temptation to claim credit that belongs to someone else, hidden in the first part of that statement is another piece of wisdom, which I think might be more important. Though it’s true that everyone is in some way clambering for their own place in the limelight, the supplemental truth is that nobody gets there on their own. The contributions of others, whether noticeable or not, are a vital part of every success story.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my advice here is actually coming from other people—from some of the most successful people I’ve known, in fact. Acquisitions legend Ed Downe, in particular, said something to me that I think sums it up: everyone in your circle—and you should have a big one—is an asset rather than a liability, and you should tell them that whenever possible. He liked to show his appreciation in tangible ways, and I try to apply that lesson myself: anything from buying someone a coffee to offering them tickets to a Knicks game. These gestures, no matter how small, show the people around you that you value them—and in turn remind you that you’re not alone in your journey to success.

Help Comes in Different Forms

Maybe you’re the only one who put in the sleepless nights, the relentless calls, to make your business come to life. But even then, there were probably others propping you up behind the scenes—and it’s easy to forget about them. Your friends and family who supported you are the most obvious, but there are also other people who make your day more productive without you realizing it. These are your boosters.

Jerry Doran was my first assistant manager when I was in the insurance business in the 1980s. I was at the end of my rope, ready to quit. He and I were at lunch at Blimpie’s and between bites he asked me a simple question with an emphasis I’ll never forget: “David, do you have any idea how close to success you are?” Jerry was a fantastic help in the office, but the lunchtime lesson that followed that question is what I’ll remember as his most important contribution to my success: frustration can be a sign of great things to come, if you still have the mindset to learn. Today, Jerry is one of my best friends, and a relationship which started out as manager-and-assistant is one that I believe boosted me out of a rut from which I might not otherwise have escaped.


As every entrepreneur knows, the path to success is not without risks, and knowing who has your back is a key piece of the equation. This means taking inventory of all the people in your work circle—partners, clients, employees—and taking the time to think about not only what they provide, but how much you’re valuing their contribution. In my experience, there’s always something below the surface, something a colleague has done that you never realized propped you up when you needed it most.

Gratitude Is Good for You

This isn’t a moral without a story. It’s a scientifically proven fact that appreciating others is good for your health, and that people who understand the benefits that others offer are both mentally and physically healthier. An entrepreneur’s life is a stressful and often lonely one, not only because you are the one with the most to lose, but because finding others to help you along the way comes down to your ability to accept and acknowledge someone else’s contribution—which is not always easy when it’s your idea on the table. Owning up to the fact that nothing comes from one source alone makes it easier to share success—which is crucial if you intend to achieve it.

Sometimes this comes down to something as simple as a quick message or a verbal “thank you.” Solidifying professional relationships takes time, but when you show people that you appreciate what they’re doing to help you, they respond to that humility. Everyone knows how good it feels to have others see value in their work, and your aim as a leader should be to spread that feeling around as much as possible.

Becoming a Booster Yourself

Understanding the value a booster presents to you also comes down to knowing how often you’re on the other side of that relationship. You get a similar set of benefits reciprocating others’ help, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to do so. The next generation of business minds is always in need of guidance and reassurance that great heights are as accessible to them as you know they are to your business. This boost doesn’t come down to sugarcoating anything—in fact talking straight and honestly about what you’ve learned yourself is usually the best way to boost those who can benefit from your knowledge.

Another friend of mine, Marco Battaglia, achieved the dream of every kid who’s ever held a football and made it to the NFL. But once he retired, and entered the next phase of his career, it was not immediately clear to him what value a Super Bowl ring had in the boardroom. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him since and help him face the adversity in business that he’s already used to facing on the field. As a mentor, I’m proud to have shared the lessons I learned as an entrepreneur with someone whom I’m sure is going to achieve great success in business.

To put it bluntly, anyone can be happy making money for a while, but not enough people are able to find sustainability in that piece of the success puzzle. To share the spoils of your hard work with your support group gives you a—dare I say, richer—life and improves your own outlook. And the good news is, there are millions of ways to show your gratitude to those around you, especially those whom you’re coaching or mentoring.

Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski likes to say that the greatest compliment he can give any player is that he’s proud of them. Success is inextricably linked to the strength of your team, and sustaining a powerful group dynamic hinges on your ability to show each player how much you appreciate their contribution. Being a great leader, then, comes down to respecting those who help you get to where you are: and in the end, that respect is what gives value to your own success.

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