What We Can Learn From Fallen Leaders
Several years ago my Epicomm colleagues and I began studying our industry’s most successful companies. We’ve learned a lot about them. We’ve also learned about something equally important: Fallen Leaders.
These companies couldn’t maintain their excellence. In fact, many aren’t even around anymore. Each has its own story, just as every Leader does. But a careful reading of those stories uncovers the kind of the mistakes that dramatically reversed their fortunes:
- Waiting too long to change. Ross Shafer, author of Are You Relevant? Twelve Reasons Smart Organizations Thrive in Any Economy, puts it concisely: “If you wait until you have to change, you’ve waited too long.”
- Failure to think change through. For many Fallen Leaders the problem was not a lack of change but rather poorly conceived change, made for the wrong reasons, and leading in the wrong directions.
- Assuming that because something isn’t affecting us today it isn’t going to affect us tomorrow. Whatever was happening—the declining demand for lithography, the rising demand for targeted, personalized communication, the emergence of electronic alternatives to print, the economy sliding into recession, etc.—was somebody else’s problem.
- Never challenging their success. Why are we doing well? How likely is our success to continue? How can we increase the likelihood that it continues? Those are some of the questions Fallen Leaders never believed they had to ask.
- Assuming that getting better at what we’ve always done is enough. That was okay when our industry wasn’t changing very much. When the Internet and digitization began to redefine our industry it became deadly. Closely related: Fallen Leaders never understood that in an industry that is being redefined it isn’t the strong who get stronger, it’s the best informed, most prepared, most flexible, and most adaptable who get stronger.
- Arrogance. There is no other way to say it. Many Fallen Leaders believed that they had it all figured out.
We have as much to learn from Fallen Leaders as we do from Leaders. Let’s start by learning from their mistakes.