Winning behaviours

Leadership myths and winning behaviours

Here is a Spot Quiz: What are the three leadership behaviours that differentiate the leaders who deliver over 10 times the average returns of their industry, consistently over a 15 year period (including periods of uncertainty, disruption, and tectonic shifts)? Choose from the list below. 10X leaders are:

More creative

More visionary

More charismatic

More ambitious


Relatively more risk taking

More heroic

More prone to big bold moves

All of the above

And the answer is:

None of the above, at least as per the book Great by Choice.

In their truly inspirational book on leadership and success, Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen tear through the popular myths of what it takes “more” of to be a successful leader in the long term. A couple of useful disclaimers will help answer the many questions shooting at me at this point: First, at no point do the authors junk any of the conventional list. They simply establish that having more from this list is not the recipe for sustained long-term success and for leading through uncertain, unpredictable times. Secondly, they don’t take away that short-term, dazzling success and heroic leadership in short windows (which we see a lot of these days) may actually depend on many traits from this list. That however, is not their thesis or their concern.

Twenty researchers studied these “at least 10X” companies in America for 15 years of performance against their counterparts. This research forms the basis for their submission. The research concluded that only three behaviours truly and clearly distinguish a 10X leader.

  1. Fanatical Discipline

10Xers are utterly relentless, monomaniacal even, unbending in their focus and their quests. Their discipline, in essence, is consistency of action – consistency with values, and consistency with long-term goals and performance standards over a period.

2. Empirical Creativity

10X-ers are not necessarily more or less visionary, bold, innovative, or creative. They take risks and bold bets just as their counterparts do. But the 10X-ers always have a deep empirical foundation as a basis for their decision-making. They derive their often bizarre self-confidence, not just from their ability to take risk, but from the depth of their decision-making. Put simply, they take more informed decisions even when they’re bold or risky.

3. Productive Paranoia

The book quotes Bill Gates from a 1984 interview as having said “I consider failure on a regular basis. Fear should guide you but be latent.” The research shows that 10X leaders are equally paranoid in good times and bad. Even in the best conditions, they will have considered the possibility that things can change in a moment, and will be prepared. Though a more careful read reveals that what distinguishes the 10X-ers is not paranoia, it is productive paranoia. Fear that that is channelled into preparation and the readiness for calm, clear-headed action.

Now a fair critique of this work would be that it’s dated and that the world has become more turbulent. One could argue that the world had not seen a pandemic for a while, ten years ago, that the internet has changed business and marketplaces, and other such arguments. I asked these questions too. To seek the truth, I put their submission through a simple test. Many of the great brands of our times have actually stood the test of turbulence for decades and emerged victorious. And their stories always rest with a leader and his cultural legacy. Do these stories, these urban legends, stand true to the authors’ view?

What do Ray Kroc, Walt Disney, Andee Grove, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Howard Schultz, Phil Knight, Steve Jobs, Reed Hastings, Henry Ford and the great brands and businesses that all of these great leaders have built have in common? Of course they were visionary and bold and took risks. But so did so many others.

Studying their lives and work, a few things stand out for me. The list has no surprises.

These leaders had self discipline like none, an inner will to achieve, no matter what. Discipline doesn’t just mean regimentation or being measured or an obedience or adherence to the rules in a hierarchy. In fact, none of these great leaders or others who achieved success would have been caught dead living that life. Discipline for them meant immense perseverance and unyielding standards. You could accuse them of being fanatical but not straitjacketed.

Andrew S Grove, known popularly as Andy Grove, is the architect of Intel’s world dominance. There are many things he pioneered in his life, but two stand out. The first being OKRs, the measurement system that revolutionised our thinking of how to measure individual performance and success in companies. The system is now used by the largest companies in the world and is actually a reflection of the empirical creativity that Andy brought into every aspect of his management system. This system, a marriage of creativity and data, has stood out through the generations for successful companies: productivity and turnover speed for McDonalds, performance management for Ford, usability for Apple and personalisation for Facebook.

In short, a system to scale innovation, blending creativity and discipline.

But it was Andy’s second obsession that truly stood out. Quite fittingly described by the title of his book – Only the paranoid will survive. His single prophecy for all times and all businesses: “Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change…” Andy Grove created a whole management philosophy around identifying and managing points of dramatic change. His need to build an organisation that was more paranoid and disciplined about its change capability than about innovation defined its decades of dominance.

This productive paranoia, not always articulated as well as in Intel, has nevertheless been the hallmark of all the great companies that survived the turn of the last century. And absent in those that didn’t, Kodak for example.

My simple test clearly told me that Collins and Hansen had given us the recipe for the ages. All it takes now is for us to think of a list of contemporary leaders in our countries and our cultures who have survived the last 15 years with consistent growth. Chances are they will be legends. And that they will live true to this submission.

At The Core Questin, we often refer to leadership as a journey, not a destination. Clearly for the best leaders, the journey is important – learning, evolving, changing and even transforming is important, consistency is important and culture is important. The best leaders operate their companies through the lever of people. They successfully humanise their business challenges and discover a lens that’s in their control. Not surprisingly, they operate through a deep culture of learning, adaptability and accountability, starting with themselves.

If you want to talk more about our approach to leadership and coaching, or are looking for a coach as your journey man/ woman, reach out. We are at the other end of the message waiting to speak with you.

About Rameet Arora

Rameet is a highly awarded business leader and marketer, writer, keynote speaker and mentor. He is a co-founder, and leadership coach at The Core Questin

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