Of the original Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955, only 71 remain on the list today. Companies once deemed indestructible have fallen by the wayside. Corporate titans of enormous influence have completely disappeared in the span of a few decades. Staying power has been rare atop the Fortune 500. Instead, the list has undergone a steady turnover from year to year. Reaching the top is a monumental achievement, but remaining there may be the most spectacular feat of all.
The fate of the Fortune 500 begs the question: Why haven’t the best of the best been able to maintain success?
In this edition of Leadership Wired, we’ll explore reasons why first place is not an easy place to stay, and we’ll look at suggestions to help leaders keep hold of the top spot.
FIRST PLACE ERASERS
The biggest detriment to tomorrow’s success is today’s success. Winning carries with it a slate of temptations dangerous enough to topple the grandest of corporate CEO’s. I call these temptations the first place erasers. Falling prey to them is a surefire ticket to the second tier.
The Momentum Myth – Leaders presiding over good times and high profits begins to relax. Comfort sets in, and the leaders lose their edge. Hard work and a sense of urgency are replaced by naive optimism and idleness. Falsely believing they can coast, leaders fall asleep at the wheel. The end of their vigilance coincides with the end of their time at the top.
The Reputation Factor – Leaders begin to place their position above their production. They live off of yesterday and their best moments. Having already notched big victories, they quit fighting to reach their potential. Consequently, they drive the organization downhill toward mediocrity.
The Entitlement Mindset – Leaders believe they have a right to be number one. Oftentimes these leaders have been given their position rather than having earned it. Expecting preferential treatment, they have an underdeveloped work ethic. As a result, they are unable or unwilling to make the sacrifices required to stay in first place.
The Revolving Door – Leaders quit attributing their success to talented performers at all levels of the organization. People tire of laboring in obscurity, and they move on to new opportunities. Leaders fail to patch the slow leak of talent leaving their teams, and they eventually sink from first place to the middle of the pack.
The Ego Issue – The ego issue trips up leaders who cannot face or admit failure. Since their identity is wrapped in their accomplishments, they do not take ownership of mistakes. To avoid taking responsibility for poor decisions, they may have remarkably high degrees of denial or self-deception. Out of touch, they cannot steer the ship to a first place finish.
Playing Not to Lose – Leaders become cautious and defensive of their perch at the top. They begin to be motivated by fear rather than purpose. Instead of playing to win, they play not to lose. Risk averse and small-minded, they are deficient of the boldness and courage necessary to command a first place team.
HOW TO STAY IN FIRST PLACE
To preserve their first place status, leaders should give extra attention to their passion, practices and people.
When passion fades, so does a leader’s trustworthiness. Gallup conducted a poll in which passion ranked as the leading indicator of credibility within an organization. The results of the survey are hardly surprising. After all, if the leader isn’t excited about the purpose of the organization, then why should he or she be trusted? On the flip side, when leaders passionately sacrifice, commit, and invest in their business, they earn the respect of followers and the good faith of constituents.
Passion creates energy. When a leader exudes joy and excitement, he or she magnetically pulls co-workers and customers into a shared vision. Passion is exceptionally strong when linked with a leader’s values. When leaders demonstrate principled passion, they are able to appeal to the moral and emotional instincts of those around them.
Leaders don’t rise to the pinnacle of success without developing the right set of attitudes and habits. Healthy habits, practiced consistently over time, will always reap dividends. On the contrary, occasional compromises of values eventually snowball into poor decisions with negative consequences. To keep hold on number one, a leader has to make every day a masterpiece.
The best leaders are humble enough to realize their victories depend upon their people. When finding themselves in first place, leaders recognize they are indebted to the ingenuity and talent of those they lead. To stay in first place, leaders have to hand out credit and shine the spotlight on the contributors all around them.