Why Your Company is Whining, Not Winning

Stand up tall! You’re a winner! You’re a leader! You’re empowered! Welcome to the annual sales conference! Okay, now, welcome back to reality. Your company is limping along, stuck on “okay.” And you’ve got this burning itch under the back label of your underpants that says you should be doing a lot better with your career, too.

Here’s the view from the Goodyear Blimp:

Problem #1: We’ve got boatloads of bosses in American business, but very few leaders (in our experience and research about 92% to 8% in favor of bosses). How about your company?

Problem #2: According to Gallup, only about 30% of corporate employees are “engaged.” That means nearly 70% come to work, sign in, play Candy Crush, go to a couple of pointless meetings, eat lunch, complain and go home. How about your employees?

The sum of Problem #1, Problem #2 equals the failure of the traditional American business model and leadership model; and, consequently, a slow, barely chugging-along recovery from the Great Recession, the mired Middle Class, and the loss of meaning through over-abuse of the word “innovation”. It’s become the business equivalent of “New and Improved” on the laundry detergent box.

Douglas McArthur was the youngest major general in the history of the United States Army. In 1919, at the end of World War I, they made him Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. Of course, he was an alumnus. In fact, he had been First Captain and number-one in his class. And when they asked for his impressions after arriving at the Academy, MacArthur said simply, “We keep teaching our cadets to win the War of 1812.”

This sums up the problem with leadership training in business today — the reason there are so many bosses, and so few leaders. We keep teaching young, rising leaders to win the market battles of ten, twenty or fifty years ago. And we teach these young leaders a style and character of leadership made obsolete by the information age and change environment in which we all live and work. In essence, we teach them to fail. And businesses are failing under them.

Steven Jobs understood this. He hired us to develop a business model based on the insurgent campaign principles we’d been learning in democratic revolutions around the world. It may sound crazy, but it’s proven to be the ideal model for today’s hyper-competitive, hyper-transparent business.

Steven didn’t just want to model a new kind of leadership, he wanted to exploit the weakness of the old style. That was the point of the model we created in the campaign of the insurgent Apple versus the incumbent IBM.  It was a business campaign designed like a political campaign.

IBM had come to succeed at the pinnacle and peak moment of the Age of Bigness. Size and scope were a distinct market advantage. It was the same for all incumbent market leaders at the time. But information, instant and everywhere, was changing everything. Problem is, IBM didn’t recognize this; and we’re not sure they do even now.

Now we are in the Age of Change. Bigness Leaders are essentially obsolete, even if they lead most corporations and a lot of markets today. In virtually every one of these markets, the Bigness Leaders are losing ground. By contrast, Change Leaders rule, or will rule. Certainly, in every marketplace on earth, insurgents are making life miserable for incumbents.

Look at the differences (and think about which is you and your company):

  • Bigness Leaders love all things big: scope, size, volume.
    • Change Leaders value speed and mobility over size. Even large Change Leaders like Amazon.com still hold to that value.
  • Bigness leaders take comfort in bureaucracy and formality: it’s part of the religion, part of what seems to guarantee that what was, will be.
    • Change Leaders hate bureaucracy and love to work informally. They have flat-lined and fluid organizations.
  • Bigness Leaders are heritage-driven. They look to the past and the strategies that made them successful to continue to make them successful in the future.
    • Change Leaders are vision-driven. They are reaching toward a better future with their strategies. And they are inventing everything about their business.
  • Bigness Leaders hate change, resist and fight change. If you’re number one, why would you want to change?
    • Change Leaders love change, because change means opportunity, it means the molecules of the market are in motion.

We have learned in our work a simple lesson: if you don’t lead change, you will be changed. Today, the rise of insurgent brands and the slow decline and then fast slide of Big Leader-incumbents proves this in virtually every marketplace.

Turn yourself into a Change Leader and your organization into a change engine. As we say in our new book, “The Leadership Campaign” (Career Press), in today’s business environment, learn to love change, or learn to love losing.