What Does Long Term Success Require?By
Nearly any leader can succeed for a short period of time. Many CEOs look impressive for one or two years. But what differentiates leaders that succeed in achieving a vision that takes years or even decades to achieve?
In his 2001 book, “Good to Great”, Jim Collins gave us some great pointers on what is required to sustain great forward movement in the business world. Yet in the decade since his analysis, two of his featured eleven corporations are gone, a third is in conservatorship, one required a federal bailout and another has stumbled. I believe that even more emphasis is needed now on strong leadership than ever before. Not strong as in dictatorial, but strong as in creating stronger sense of vision, mission and purpose. Strong as in creating something that reflects the aspirations of the leader’s entire team and which will flex as unexpected change pounces upon the organization.
Long Term Success Requires a Culture That Promotes Success
Long term success requires that the leader create a culture that continually promotes success. The simple fact is that the world of today is different than the world of yesterday. The change may not be dramatic every day, but change is happening more and more frequently. Certainly in the USA, the morning of September 11, 2001 and every day since then has been radically different than the 65 years leading up to “9-11”. And we haven’t been the same since the stock market crash in October 2008 exposed some bottomless pits in our financial markets.
No Room for Complacency
We have no good reason to believe that “things will settle down” for any long period of time as they have in the past. Consequently, we are foolish if we allow ourselves to be lolled into complacency. Complacency did not serve us well in 2008 or 2009 – and it is likely to fail us again in the future. The next shock may come from anywhere at any time. Our organizations should be better prepared, based on the lessons learned since 9-11. Chaos can erupt at any time.
Create a Cultural Bias That Promotes Success
The organizations that do the best when faced with adversity are those in which there is a strong culture that flexibly ties everyone and all their activities together. Nokia displayed that in the cellphone market when it capitalized on Ericsson’s slow response to an industrial fire (see Your Leadership Approach Must Anticipate Crisis).
Here are the keys to creating such a flexible success-oriented culture:
- Create a strong and clear vision, mission and purpose – and use them to motivate your entire team to search for ways to move the organization forward.
- Create a strong bias for developing and using plans as guideposts (but not as controls that limit creativity, stifle the imagination or discourage the recognition of emerging trends or problems).
- Create a strong bias for acting promptly (but only if the action moves the organization toward accomplishing its vision).
- Create a strong bias for developing and communicating expected norms (but don’t use policies and procedures to establish tight control that cuts off innovation).
- Create a strong bias for reporting and reflecting on emerging trends and concerns (but don’t digress for everything that emerges).
- Create a strong bias for open communication between all levels of the organization (but don’t become bogged down with meaningless meetings).
- Create a strong bias for encouraging and utilizing the input of customers, suppliers and independent third parties to further the vision and increase the benefits of using the products.
- Create a strong bias for treating the current direction of the organization as tactical, something that will shift as customer needs and wants and external conditions change, something that will shift whenever the organization’s vision changes or the best path to the vision changes.
“Strong bias” is probably the most important single phrase in this list. I use it very intentionally, as it emphasizes what is valued, but also shows that the value is NOT an absolute to be blindly followed. When we stop being mindful, we are likely to trap ourselves and our organization into an action that will produce failure.
To be a successful leader in the long term, one must be mindful and flexible and have a strong bias to holding true to one’s values. One must create a leadership culture that transmits these values to everyone in the organization.
- Collins, Jim (2001). Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t. HarperCollins, New York.
Gary Clayton is a leadership coach who works with leaders and those who wish to become leaders in business and life. He has worked with many companies to identify and better manage their business risks. Gary’s mission is to empower leaders to greater success and larger leadership roles in business and life through leadership skill development and behavior modification.