Leadership: Up the Down Escalator

by | Sep 6, 2013 | High Road Leadership


What do these companies have in common?

CircuitCity, Fannie Mae, Sears, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Chrysler, A&P (grocers), Kmart, and United Airlines

 These were all great companies at one time, reaching the pinnacle of success and admired by their peers (and investors). Yet each one has fallen down off their pedestal, sometimes more than once. In his most recent book Great by Choice, Jim Collins and his research team noted that even the great companies can fade fast. Of the 11 companies that he cited in his seminal study Good to Great, six of his Great companies are today considered by investors as risky investments.

 What does this have to do with leadership?

The answer can be found in the 1st natural law of leadership.

  • The success and failure of any nation, state, organization, and/or team is dependent on the quality of its leadership.

 Each of these aforementioned organizations (and many more like them) was at the top of its game, but after a change in leadership, its future success was no longer guaranteed. All too often I find that senior leaders of companies think that once they have reached their place on the organization chart, they can stop learning, growing, and changing. I remind them, “Being a leader is like standing precariously on the top of a fence; you could fall at any moment.” To understand why this is guaranteed, we turn to science.

 You may have heard this law of physics: ‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’ There is another law that relates to what your organization faces: ‘Everything returns to stasis or equilibrium.’ This tells you that creating momentum for improvement or betterment means you must overcome these laws with a tremendous effort or exertion. Otherwise, a small momentum is not enough to get past stasis or status quo.

 The journey for being the best at anything is challenging because it is like walking up on an escalator that is always traveling down. The moment you end your emotional commitment to be a bold and innovative leader or grow smug about your company’s accomplishments this escalator will take the whole company down to where you started.

 Success requires everyone, starting with the leader, to stay focused on the roadmap of always being better today than the day before. This journey to being the best (however you define that) is often the path of most resistance and fraught with pitfalls and hazards. To be successful you must get past stasis or equilibrium, which takes tremendous unified effort. That is why every organization needs courageous and able leaders – to lead people past being mediocre or ordinary. This path for traveling beyond an unfavorable status quo most often requires bold, creative, and innovative leaders with tremendous energy.

 Unfortunately once greatness is achieved, the current stable of leaders grow tired or become complacent. Thus the organization they lead falls off its pedestal.

 This is why there will always be a need for leadership consultants and a demand for books written about leadership. The best way that you can help your organization stay on top is to start developing tomorrow’s leaders today. Unfortunately there is very little emphasis in most organizations to seek out potential leaders and train them to lead the effort towards greatness.

 Ask yourself these two key questions:

What is my organization doing right now to ensure that we don’t become mediocre or fall off the pedestal?

What are we currently doing to get people ready to lead us on the pitfall-laden journey towards greatness?