Max Foster on how we judge people by what they achieve but also how they achieve it.
What is it that you find appealing about successful people? In my book, I talk a lot about ‘character’ and I break that down to honesty and consistency. The example I use is the rapper Stormzy whose lyrics are brutally raw but also reflective of the world he comes from, and is speaking to. ‘The kids of our country are tuned in to what sounds real,’ he told me.
His message is also consistent. It’s all about escaping ‘the Ends’ or the neighbourhood he was brought up in which is synonymous with crime and hopelessness. He won’t rest until both he and his friends are out.
Those friends, his ‘mandem,’ feature heavily in his lyrics as do his other relationships, such as with his parents. In his breakout YouTube hit ‘Shut Up,’ Stormzy appears with his friends in their local park. At the end of the track they fall about laughing in an undeniably authentic, endearing moment. There's a key line in there about how he wants enough money to send his mother on holiday.
Stormzy pays tribute to his mother again in ‘Lay Me Bare’ while he hits out at his father for walking out on them when he was a child.
Relationships are integral to Stormzy’s story as they are to anyone in the public eye. Fans don’t know their idols personally so want to know who does have that connection.
I report on the British royal family and one of the great frustrations they have is the way some parts of the media focus too much on the family dynamics and not enough on the public work they do. It’s a tension that has always existed but peaked during the current monarch’s reign which coincided with a revolution in communications.
Before Elizabeth came to the throne, people didn’t have televisions in their sitting rooms let alone smartphones in their hand. The proliferation of media has placed people in public positions under unprecedented scrutiny and tensions famously came to a head for the royals when Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a car crash whilst being pursued by paparazzi. Her sons have been deeply skeptical of the media ever since and continue protect their privacy fiercely.
So whilst Stormzy celebrates his relationships; the British monarchy is more guarded but they all understand that audiences need at least a glimpse behind the scenes. Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford points out In her Cloutology interview that the real life stories that interest us most are about relationships and she uses sport as an example:
‘People can get the results from a particular match or an event very quickly but what they really want to know is what went on behind the scenes. What has happened between various characters who play against each other? Is there real rivalry or do they really like each other and are just putting on the rivalry?
People love that kind of thing because we are all human and I think we see relationships as pivotal to how we function in the world so we are always curious to see how other people function.
Are they doing it really well? Is there something I can learn from? ... or, are they doing it really badly and I must make a mental note to not be like that celebrity or to not be like that particular athlete?’
In other words, we don’t just judge people on what they achieve but also by how they achieve it and that’s why clout and success have as much to do with character as they do about credibility. We seek out people’s honesty, their consistency but also the relationships they have with other people.
That’s why successful people know it’s important to be seen with the right people in the right places. The ones that consistently do well don’t give everything away though. They know an air of mystery keeps you interesting.