The Mighty Ones
The applause was deafening. The congratulations overwhelmed your email box. The press clippings were glowing. Everyone was buzzing, because your recent product launch was successful. Last quarter’s earnings beat even the analysts’ predictions. The company’s stock price was up 15%. Operating costs were down, and sales volumes were number one in the industry.
So how do you follow that act? All of this excitement doesn’t build a platform upon which to rest. Instead it forms a bar, higher than the last one, over which you must hurdle. After all, the stockholders expect more earnings. Customers expect better products. Employees expect more career opportunity. And so it goes. How do you manage all of these expectations for continuous improvement against the best strategy for the company’s growth? How do you compete for market dominance without succumbing to market vulnerabilities?
This is the pivotal point. The choices you make will become either a stepping stone to greater success, or the rock that trips up your company, your team, or your own leadership success. Companies and people don’t automatically enter a “safe” zone when they reach a measure of accomplishment. But in some cases, their behavior suggests that they think their momentum can’t be stopped.
You’ve heard the saying, “the higher you climb, the harder you fall.” While that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, in the midst of success, it’s important to remain grounded; like holding onto a guardrail.
Jim Collins, author of the best-selling books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last,” provides an explanation on how once-mighty companies fall. He highlights five stages in his book “How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In.”
- Hubris born of success. Here an organization or team exhibits extreme pride and arrogance based on past accomplishments.
- Undisciplined pursuit of more. Companies in this stage overreach, become obsessed with growth, and fail to manage the process and pace effectively, ultimately undermining their long-term value.
- Denial of risk and peril. By this stage, companies are so caught up in successes that they become blind to the possibilities of failure.
- Grasping for salvation. This is the moment where the company’s decisions lead to new life or certain death.
- Capitulation to irrelevance or death. At this point organizations are spiraling out of control and either give in to certain death, or shrink into irrelevance.
So how does one avoid this death spiral, whether within your team, your organization or for your own leadership abilities? Here are a few tips from my playbook.
- Build a culture of humility. Keep the focus on the value you provide to your customers; and the “why” of your organization. What’s the impact if you cease to exist? It’s really not all about your company. It’s about the value you provide to others. This is a giving mentality, where long term relationships, integrity and quality products or services are most important; instead of a getting mentality, where there’s constant pressure on the customer to buy.
- Find your truth teller. Unfortunately, some leaders surround themselves with other leaders who will tell them what they want to hear. Or they don’t create a culture where their team feels comfortable fully informing them about business issues. Make sure you surround yourself with people who are encouraged and willing to speak up and say the difficult things or raise questions that may be contrary to the prevailing direction.
- Strike your balance. If you try to be all things to all customers; if you overreach in too many different directions, you lose your balance and end up grasping for a lifeline. A tightrope walker is constantly shifting his weight to keep his center of mass above his feet. This alignment is critical in your organization or team to ensure stability between competing priorities.
- Exhibit learning leadership. Only when the leader of the team demonstrates a continual desire to learn, to admit faults and deficiencies, and to seek input from the entire team and others outside the company, will others in the organization follow suit.
- Master discipline. Establish a system that produces results, and keep repeating it. Measure the right factors. Ensure team members are learning agile and will support the culture. Focus on a consistent vision. Stick to what works.
Note that these recommendations have nothing to do with functional or technical skills. You can hire individuals on your team to fulfill those roles. This has everything to do with pure leadership; influencing others to move forward in the right direction, based on the right decisions. These are important steps in building a “mighty” organization. So, are you a “mighty” leader?