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The Price of Great Success

Monday, April 06, 2015
A few weeks ago I was listening to a sermon by my pastor (Robert Steltzer of Faith Lutheran Church) who was discussing a point when the great prophet Elijah was running from Jezebel who wanted him dead.  Elijah was a very prolific prophet and was looked at as truly important because his words usually came true.  But now Elijah was afraid.  At this point my pastor looked out into the congregation seated and said “you know that the price of great success is often great fear”.  Wow, of all the things he said that morning that one hit me between the eyes.  At that point I grabbed my program, stopped listening (much to my pastor’s chagrin), and started writing before I forgot what had inspired me.

What occurred to me with that statement is how true it is that great leaders in both the private sector (business world) and public sector (government) lose their willingness to take risks once they achieve success.  They are either unwilling to lose what they have acquired (material wealth or political power) or unwilling to take criticism for not making perfect choices.   What these leaders forget is that there are no perfect decisions.  Like battle plans, all business plans will change at first contact.  They need to have the flexibility to change as your competition reacts to how you address your market. 

90 % of all companies do not execute their business plans primarily because of the fear of failure.  The best companies in the world do not always have the best plan, but they have leaders that execute the one they have.  When the pain of failure is greater than the reward for taking risks then no one will take the risks necessary for great success.  That’s when everything slows down.  That is when organizations become paralyzed by analysis.  That is when we forget how to act small.  That is when good becomes the enemy of great.

At this point classic management is unwilling to risk their jobs, which taking market risk requires.  This is the point when long term failure begins.  This is when ownership and real leaders must act or fear will grip the organization and growth will stop.  I don’t know any really successful leaders that have not failed and very often failed multiple times.  But what they knew is that if they did not take a risk there would not be a reward and the greater the risk usually the greater the reward.  Where are the leaders who are not afraid?  Where are the leaders that have succeeded and are still willing to risk it all?  Where are the leaders who are willing to take risks and make decisions when no one else will do it?  I suspect this is a vanishing breed.