Choices that determine leaders’ success

Most leadership failures are traceable to poor choices. Poor choices made by leaders result in bad decisions which lead to undesirable results. How strong, stable and successful a company gets is determined by how sound and profound its choices are. The prosperity or otherwise of a nation is an indication of the kind of choices its leaders make. Individuals, organizations and nations are at the mercy of their choices. We first make our choices but the choices end up shaping and determining what we eventually become. Rich or poor, energized or enfeebled, progressive or retrogressive, respected or reproached, choices make people and organizations so.

While sometimes it is quite easy to make a choice, good or bad, that is not always the case. There are many instances when an issue is neither purely white nor plainly black. Making a choice in such situation is usually difficult. When faced with a situation like this the leader should be guided by two questions. One, what is the best thing for the organization in the situation? Two, what is the best thing for the people in that situation. When these questions are properly answered, even when the coast is still foggy, the leader is guided by the best intentions. Leaders make wrong choices when in a quandary if they put their personal interests first.

For a leader that will go places, the corporate interest and people’s interest must come before personal interest. If the order is changed, the result would be calamitous.

Making the right choices is a function of the quality of information at the disposal of a leader. The more a leader knows, the wider and more sharpened his perspectives become, the more accurate his choices get, and the better his results are. Therefore, to guard against making perfunctory choices that could jeopardize the success of their organizations, leaders have to update their knowledge and top up information about the industry in which they operate. Kodak did not do this and had to be shuffled out of the industry it had dominated for over a century.

 

Kodak’s faux pas

When in 1975, a Kodak engineer, Steve Sasson, invented the first digital camera and intimated the leadership of the company with the information, the reaction he got was far from his expectation. His bosses told him, “That’s cute, but don’t tell anyone about it.”

The leadership of Kodak was so fixated on its chemical-based film and paper business that it could neither consider nor comprehend any other technology. The leadership did not believe in filmless photography and continued with its business as it had always done. But the choice to ignore the emerging technology introduced by one of its engineers, which the company should have taken advantage of to build a stronger business, proved to be a destructive one later as digital technology took over the industry. Even when Kodak made an attempt to do catch up, it was such a difficult task because changing its business template was not easy. Eventually, the company went under.

The Kodak story would have been different had the leadership been informed enough about new trends in the industry. If that had been the case, the invention by one of its engineers would not have been discountenanced and the company would have been the pioneer of the digital technology. Leaders need to understand that in the current dispensation, knowledge becomes obsolete at the speed of light. The implication of this is that what once worked will no longer work. What was once the latest and best technology will soon be worsted by a new one. A new normal will always emerge but only those who are prepared for it will be able to seize the accompanying opportunities. The key to understanding this is to be unrepentantly committed to self improvement. Those who are unrelenting about self improvement are always the first to know when the trend is about to change and they take advantage of it before others even get wind of the change.

 

Critical choices that leaders have to make

Choice making is critical to leadership. Here are some vital choices that determine the success or otherwise of leaders.

 

Building the right team

A leader is only as strong as his team. No matter how good a leader is, he can only realize a fraction of his potential if he works alone. Nothing of significance has been achieved by lone rangers. It takes the collaborative efforts of a group for the best in individuals to be realised. Hence, the appropriateness of the Chinese proverb that behind an able man there are always other able men.

What a leader does is to cast the vision, get the right people around the vision to drive it, and provide the motivation to achieve the vision. If a leader picks the right people to run with the vision, achieving the task becomes easy but if he chooses the wrong people, the vision may be aborted. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So, if the right people are not put in charge of the vision, it will fall flat.

To choose the right people for his vision, a leader has to consider the following:

Competence: A leader should never compromise competence. Competent people not only create value and generate revenue, they are usually too busy to be distracted by small issues that pull down organizations.

Character: An organization that is populated with people of integrity will adhere to the highest ethical standards which will have a positive effect on its performance. Ethical people will neither cut corners nor get involved in underhand dealings. This will buoy its reputation and increase its profitability.

Candour: A leader needs the candid opinion of those he works with. Where candour exists, sycophancy cannot survive as issues are discussed dispassionately and decisions are based on facts and not sentiments. Therefore, organisations that are peopled by candid men and women are always market leaders because when issues are objectively discussed and appropriately handled, productivity level is raised and the bottom line is positively impacted.

 

Attitude

To a great extent, a leader’s attitude determines his success. Attitude determines accomplishments; no one can outperform his level of attitude. Attitude is superior to aptitude because the latter does not solely determine success. If the aptitude is right but the attitude is wrong, the outcome will be far from right. A study carried out by Stanford Research Institute substantiates this. According to the finding of the study, success is comprised of 88 per cent attitude and only 12 per cent education (aptitude).

An attitude is a viewpoint about situations, people or places. It is a belief that informs reactions to, and handling of, issues, circumstances and persons. It is a perception that shapes behaviours. It is a mindset that determines what is done and how it is done. Social scientists are of the opinion that no one was born with any particular attitude. So, attitude is a learnt behaviour.

But if attitude can be learnt, it can also be unlearned. Therefore, no one needs to enslave himself to a wrong attitude. Like a worn out shirt or skirt, a bad attitude should be shed. A bad attitude is like having a flat tyre, it can’t get anyone anywhere until it is changed.

The most important attitude a leader must learn is positivity. Positive attitude produces optimism and unleashes latent energy. It dulls worries and fears while playing up possibilities. Having a positive attitude is making a choice to see a situation from the bright side instead of viewing it from the horrible side. It is a determination to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. Positive attitude puts the dividing line between a leader who is able to steer his people from adversity to prosperity and one who leaves them enmeshed in their catastrophe.

Positivity is very important because, as Napoleon Bonaparte observed, a leader is a dealer in hope. It is a leader’s responsibility to give his people hope. But he can only give them hope if he is not hopeless himself, and being imbued with a positive attitude, hinged on a belief that things will work out well, is one sure way to demonstrate hope.

A leader with a positive attitude believes the best in his team. He does not concentrate on what is wrong but rather focuses on what is right with the team. He does not overstress what is not good about the products but emphasizes the edge his products have over others. He does not amplify what is inappropriate with the system but underscores what is good about it.

A leader should also imbibe the attitude of gratitude. The easiest way to show that an individual is valued is to express gratitude to him. When this comes from the leader, it enlivens the people and encourages them to put in more effort. But showing gratitude, especially for activities that are regarded as run of the mill, does not come naturally to many people. Most leaders wait till a team member achieves an earth-shattering or a record-breaking feat before showing them appreciation. That is not quite right because it is capable of sending a message to the team that their efforts are not valued. However, while accomplishment of tasks that are regarded as outstanding may attract incentives, those that fall into other categories should be noted and commended, even if verbally. Gratitude should be the second nature of a leader. It should flow freely from him and the leader should show how every activity that is appreciated contributes to the overall objective of the organization so that the appreciation may be fully appreciated by the recipients.

 

Strategy 

Strategy is vital to the actualization of corporate objectives because it bridges the gap between means and end. Strategy involves the deployment of resources at the disposal of an organization for the actualization of corporate goals.

According to Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor, strategy should determine how organizational resources, skills and competencies are combined to create competitive advantage.

That is why many have argued that any corporate failure is traceable to failure of strategy. Those of this school of thought insist that when a company goes down it is because it has employed the wrong strategy; if the strategy is inappropriate, the result will be unsatisfying.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of strategy; offensive and defensive.

An offensive strategy is employed by companies that wish to increase their space. They are always looking for new grounds to cover, new products to launch and new territory to extend to. Their hunger for conquest is insatiable. They grow from town to town, region to region, country to country and continent to continent in their bid to increase their market share.

Some companies that deploy this strategy also introduce new products always to meet the realities of the times and take care of emerging markets.

Defensive strategy is deployed by an organization when it wishes to discourage encroachment into its market or territory. This strategy is concerned more about holding on to its share of the market than increasing same. A company with this strategy is not driven by any empire-building ambition.

The choice of strategy is a function of the vision of the organization. But a leader needs not hold on to a strategy that fails to deliver desired result. Hence, strategies should be reviewed regularly to see whether they are in line with the current aspirations of the organization.

 

Response or reaction

A leader always has to choose between responding to a situation or reacting to it. Response and reaction are similar concepts with profound difference.

When a leader chooses responding above reacting in a given situation, he is taking charge of the situation. With that disposition, he is able to keep in view the bigger picture and is positioned to right what is wrong for the benefit of the organization. But when a leader opts for reacting, he becomes defensive and is willing to extricate himself from the blame for what has gone wrong. Instead of protecting the overall interest of the organization, he is interested in protecting himself and starts looking for who to hang for what has gone wrong.

When leaders react, they give vent to their emotions and gag their reasoning. Any leader worth his title knows that emotions can be misleading because they are, more often than not, transient. So, any decision based on emotions is more likely to be wrong than right.

 

Last line

Leaders who make the right choices for their organizations leave indelible marks on the sands of time.

 

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