In our role as independent M&A advisors we recommend strategic and financial options available to a business. Our job is to provide honest, objective and informed advice that leads to the most favorable outcome for the client. We call a tail a tail.
We have worked with thousands of companies over the past two decades and have identified seven leadership characteristics that have little to do with any specific industry or organization and everything to do with the way their leaders think and act. Though they are simple and even obvious, it is alarming how many businesses fail to instill these principles in their organization.
1. Confront reality. For many of us it is easier to wait for things to improve than to admit they have gone wrong. Psychologists call this pain avoidance and it is extraordinary how strenuously we will avoid an admission of failure. One of the hardest things to do is recognize when something is not working and accept the responsibility to change or terminate it.
2. Focus on your strengths. While there is a certain logic to investing your resources in underperforming assets in the hope that you can correct the problems and transform failure into success, in most cases that only diverts attention from more profitable operations. The inability to focus on successful and profitable activities is the primary cause of frustration, poor performance and failure.
3. Accept the inevitability of change. It takes courage to accept the inevitability—and therefore the necessity—of change. When a species fails to adapt, extinction is the result. In business as in biology the ability and willingness to adapt to shifting circumstances is essential to survival. Change is the most daunting challenge a business will encounter even as it offers the greatest opportunity.
4. Be passionate. Attitude determines outcome. If you do not believe what you are saying, it will show. If you do not believe in your ability to meet your clients’ needs, they will know. That does not mean being best in the world at what you do. It does mean being convinced that what you do has real value. If you are not convinced, your customer will not be either.
5. Be consistent. Like oxygen, consistency is one of those qualities that is easier to recognize when it is lacking. Nothing is more unsettling or disruptive than erratic behavior. Consistency builds confidence. It signifies reliability. It is the foundation of positive relationships.
6. Value continuity. There’s an old paratrooper joke that you do not need a parachute to skydive. You just need one to skydive twice. In business it takes experience and institutional know-how to do a job well and repeatedly over time. A layer or two down the organization chart are people with deep insight into your company’s most basic operations. Talk to them. The foundation of a great company is the way it taps that knowledge, develops its people, and builds a strong bench of future managers and leaders.
7. Replace fear with faith. Fear is nothing more than the faith that things will not work out. As self-fulfilling prophecies go, fear is a sure winner. When we operate from a position of fear—that the product will fail, the deal will not close, the competition will triumph—we validate a belief in our own inferiority. Faith, on the other hand, is the belief in our ability to succeed. It is the confidence to trust our intuition—and to act on it. The difference between a goal and a fantasy is belief in its attainability. It is possible to expect victory and be wrong. But it is far more likely to believe you will lose and be right. Will following these seven steps lead to instant success? Of course not. There is no substitute for hard work, knowledge of the facts, the willingness to take risks, and the capacity to learn from your mistakes. Nor is this list exhaustive. Every individual must find his or her own path to leadership excellence. If you’d like to discuss how you can apply these concepts to the organization you lead, give me a call.