Lead for Sustained Success

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 9, Issue No. 11
February, 2011

By Dan Coughlin



The real test of leadership is not in the moment, but in the long term. Of course, the decisions you make at any moment can positively or negatively affect the long term health of the business.

Have you ever seen a leader swoop in and be the hero of the moment only to guide the organization to long-term failure? What good is that?

As the world-wide economy continues to improve, there will be a host of leaders who will be determined to show that they are getting great results right now. You might even be one of them. I’m encouraging you to do your best to focus on long-term success as well as the next quarterly report. Here are five ideas on leading for sustained success:

  1. Carefully Select Your Role ModelsIt’s been my experience that people tend to reflect the leaders they most admire. If they admire someone who is always sarcastic and cynical, then they tend to become more sarcastic and cynical. If they admire a leader who is always down-to-earth and friendly, they tend to be that way. Be very careful about the leaders you choose to be your role models.

    My father-in-law, Reverend Arnold Bizer, is a living legend.

    I’m serious. He was the senior minister of Salem Church in Alhambra, Illinois for 34 years. Alhambra has a population of 700 people. Every time my family and I go back to Alhambra with him, people line up to shake his hand. He retired 18 years ago. To me, he and his wife, Luetta, are absolutely fantastic examples of leading for sustained success. Their impact on that community continues to this day.

    They are remarkably consistent with everyone they meet. Their personalities never waver. They treat everyone with respect. I’ve seen them in countless situations, and they continually amaze me. I never saw them in action at Salem Church because they retired three years before I met my wife, Barb. But I have heard from dozens of people who were impacted by their leadership, and the way their parishioners describe them matches up exactly with what I have seen from them in their retirement.

    Who is someone you know that has provided leadership for sustained success? What do you admire about that person? How can you use something that they do to become an even more effective leader today?

  2. Be ConsistentThe most important factor in building a strong brand is consistency. The same can be said for being a leader who sustains success over the long term. I don’t mean you can’t ever try new ideas. Innovation is part of regenerating success. However, being consistent with your values and your behaviors is how people can come to trust you. I’ve seen gruff leaders and loud leaders and gentle leaders and quiet leaders all become very successful. What I have not seen is people who changed their personalities every day be effective in sustaining success over the long term.

    I’ve identified three disastrous leadership styles. They are:

    The Mood Ring Leader — their decisions and behaviors are based on their mood that day.

    The Chameleon — says or does whatever they think the boss of the moment wants.

    The Polite Dictator — tells employees what they want to hear, and then does whatever they had already decided to do before meeting with their employees.

    The one thing these three types of leaders have in common is they are all very inconsistent. If you want to lead for sustained success, write down the values and beliefs you are going to stick to no matter who is in the room or what mood you are in or what your results were last quarter. People need to know that they can count on you. If you change every day, they won’t know who you are and what you stand for.

  3. Pause, Think, ActNeil Diamond had a song out a few years ago called, “Slow It Down.” Here are some of the lyrics:

    Pick it up. Hurry up son. Eat on the run if you wanna get done.
    Greed, speed, where does it lead you?
    Wanna succeed? You thinking you need to?
    But are you really sure?

    It’s a lot to endure, but I got me a cure.
    Slow it down! Slow it down, yea.
    Slow it down.
    Take your time and you’ll find your time has a meaning.
    Easy now.
    Catch those sounds of your heartbeat before it’s leaving.

    The funny thing about that song is the first time I heard it I was eating a hamburger while driving down the highway. Maybe that’s why it stuck in my head.

    There is a constant world-wide drumbeat that says, “The world is moving faster than ever before. You have to make faster decisions in order to survive.” It makes it sound like we’re on a rat race with steroids. Don’t believe it. To be a great leader, you have to have the courage to slow down and make really good decisions. Once you believe in your decision, move into action. Don’t feel compelled to meet someone else’s stopwatch.

  4. Ask Yourself The Big Question of BusinessThe big question of business is, “Will this decision be good for our business today and in the future?”

    Notice the question doesn’t say, “Will this decision be good for my career?” I think over the last decade we saw enough examples of people who made decisions that were good for their careers, at least in the short term, and bad for their businesses, at least in the long term.

    Jim Collins wrote an iconic book called, Good to Great. I liked the book very much, but I disagreed with his emphasis on humility. At least, I felt he needed to clarify better what that word means. If humility means always putting the good of the organization ahead of your own personal good, then I agree. Humility in that sense is critically important to being a leader for sustained success.

    On the other hand, if humility means putting yourself down and always saying that it was other people who produced the results and that you were just plain lucky, then I think it is the wrong word to use in describing a successful leader over the long term. You should believe in your worth and acknowledge that you do bring value to the organization that helps it to succeed today and tomorrow. Just don’t put what’s good for you ahead of what’s best for the organization.

  5. Remember What Got You HereNot every company on the planet has had poor results through the recession. Some have continued to achieve remarkable results and deliver incredible performances. The challenge for leaders of every long-term successful company is to continually remind the employees and suppliers of what got them there.

    Leaders who sustain success have great memories and are great historians. They know the values and decisions that guided their organization for many years, and they continually remind the current group of employees of those values.

    Don’t lead for today’s headlines. Lead in a way that 52 years after you arrived your impact is still being felt every day.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at dan@thecoughlincompany.com with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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