Success vs. Significance

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We’ve all either seen it or been around it. The people who walk into the room, dressed to impress, with that extra bounce in their step. They look the right way, accessorized with a bit of flash, shoulders back and feet square. They are trying to lean into every conversation, being present but not saying much. They have their business card ready to hand out and plenty of firm handshakes to distribute. These people are the picture of success, and they want everyone to know they have it all together.

We’ve all seen these people in some way, shape or form because we all know what success looks like. Some of us, if we are honest, have done this kind of thing ourselves. Whether it’s at the in-laws’ dinner table, a boardroom meeting we aren’t as prepared for as we should be, an interview or a blind date, we’ve all experienced what it feels like to put on that feeling of being successful. But we all know that at the end of the day, it’s just an act. It’s just something we are trying to do to portray something that isn’t reality in that particular moment. It could be our future, or it could be our hope, but it isn’t the truth, and many people are able to see it coming a mile away. Most people know what it looks like when someone is projecting success. 

People project success to establish confidence in themselves or in what they are attempting to represent. No one likes a failure and no one desires to be a failure. Few people desire to have others see them as weak or incapable, regardless of circumstance. As a result, many will project this air of success to protect their reputation, their plans and endeavors, or just their ego. And sometimes, it works. But more often than not, eventually the truth will be exposed. 

John C. Maxwell said:
“Successful people are not always significant. But significant people are always successful.” 

People can project success, but you cannot project significance. We all know what they both look like, but significance can’t be faked. We can feel significance — we know its tangible effect and it lasts. Servant leaders don’t look to be successful; they look to become significant. Being significant isn’t about us, but it’s about how effective we are in whatever we do. No matter what we do to become significant, significance is never about one person or one thing. Significance always involves a purpose that leads to meaning in life and depth of perspective. 

Think about the most significant people or events in your life. It evokes some kind of emotion, doesn’t it? The significant events in our lives define us and give us direction. The kind of leaders who are present with us in ways that enhance the definition of our lives are the truest success stories. They are the ones rewriting the narrative of what connection and community should look like and the unsung heroes of the stories that have yet to be published. 

Here are a few ways to move from attempting to be a success to thriving in significance:

  1. Be sincere — Having a desire to be genuine with others comes from the heart. If what we do only comes from our head, it can easily be seen as motive-based and most likely be questioned. 

  2. Authenticity matters — Successful people “try.” There’s nothing wrong with trying, but significant people “are,” meaning they are truly themselves. Being our authentic selves allows for security and transparency.

  3. Care with intentionality and purpose — Attaching purpose with intentionality can come across as manipulation if it isn’t done with extreme care. Intentional care with focused purpose makes moments significant.

  4. Never underestimate the simple things — Significant means something is weighty and highly meaningful, but if we ignore the simple things included in the weight of life, we might be seen as inauthentic. Know that everyday things are embedded in significance and making the simple a priority can change the game. 

  5. Be consistently present — Availability cannot be understated. Being the person who can be counted on to pick up the phone, be at your desk, answer the text, or lean in to listen is invaluable and sets us apart from those who have agendas or are projecting care that isn’t real. 

Servant leader, determine today to not just be successful. Become significant.


Lyle Tard
Servant Leader Catalyst, RBLP-C, Emotional Intelligence Influencer

 Lyle Tard is the Founder and CEO of IMPACT Servant Leadership, started in 2018. He is currently in his 19th year as a Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force. While still on active duty, Lyle serves his country at the 305 Maintenance Group at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of Training Management.

As a communicator, Lyle has spoken worldwide inside and out of the military community. He has motivated young adults at institutions such as Atlanta Leadership College, American University, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and his alma mater, Ashford University. Just as in the Air Force, Lyle takes pride in leading the next generation of world changers. From universities to businesses to churches, Lyle's passion is to influence the world to realize that "Leaders lead best when they serve." IMPACT Servant Leadership aims to transition our most impactful areas of society to realize that achieving power with others is more beneficial socially and economically than asserting power over others. Lyle is also the primary moderator of the Service is Power podcast, spreading the message that "The Power to Serve, Serves us All."