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Every business, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline. This is the subject of Jim Collins' book How the Mighty Fall.
Mr. Collins lists five stages of decline businesses go through, and how to identify, manage, avoid or recover from them.
But outside of the stages we go through, I'd like to address something specific about what keeps a business from decline. That is, real leadership. Mr. Collins says, "The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty. It's the ability to come back from setbacks, stronger than before."
How do you that? How do you even begin to avoid decline in the first place?
What you do is you earn trust. CEOs can't lead from ivory towers disconnected physically and emotionally from their teams. To lead today, you need to be a man or woman of the people. Leaders need to be relatable, real, fallible – human. People are too smart to actually believe that their leaders are perfect. So demonstrating who you are is fundamental. This is not something you haven't heard from me before. But I bring it up again in this context because who you are as a leader is of the utmost importance in leading – and succeeding.
Your willingness to show vulnerability, emotion and weakness is of course ingratiating to your team. But what are your intentions? This must be crystal clear.
If you were undergoing a transformation, if you were asking your teams to push the envelope and take giant leaps of change, would they do it? Why would they believe you? Why would they follow you?
That is fundamentally why some teams pull together and others don't. Leadership is about leading your people – first and foremost. Having a vision, inspiring your teams, driving success, taking responsibility for you, for them, their families, and for your customers. That's what it's all about.
A lot is riding on the CEO's shoulders – the good and the bad. If things are good, many don't care as much. But when there is a hiccup, when you need the loyalty of your team, when you need their confidence and perseverance – your intentions, your character, your presence, availability and connection will be huge for all involved.
And you can guarantee that in a time of great change and uncertainty – whether due to the time we live in or a transformation of your business – that there will be hiccups and missteps. This is the time when your leadership matters most. When it inspires deep trust and commitment to the business and in turn, each other.
This is not a trait you turn on and off, so consider your leadership style now.
The buck stops here, as they say, with the CEO. So what is your agenda? Does your CEO title define you? Are you keeping yourself in check?
All leaders must balance the recognition that comes with the job, with humility and responsibility. We must put the interest of the business and its people ahead of personal success.
If all that you do, you do for the best interest of your business and your team you automatically generate personal success for yourself. The minute you make it about yourself, however, you lose credibility and you lose trust.
So avoid any ambiguity about your leadership. Make your intentions clear. Champion your people and your business. Even if you're criticized and even if you're doubted, put your people first. That is what earns trust.
And that is what Simon Sinek talks about in his new book Leaders Eat Last – a title that can be interpreted literally. Are you willing to eat last?
Mr. Sinek lists the example of the Marine Corps where men and women are willing to risk their lives. Why? Because they know others would do the same for them.
I love this example because if we were to adopt it in business, if we were to buy into the basic real and humanly supportive mentality, we would stop underestimating our personal capacity for change.
When we know our colleagues – and especially our leaders – would back us up, no matter what, we would be more willing, more motivated and more inspired to take bigger risks. We would actually soar.
Peter Aceto (@PeterAceto) is president and chief executive officer at Tangerine Bank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bank of Nova Scotia.