Building or transforming a company is one of the most difficult tasks a leader can take on. It requires vision, courage, discipline, business smarts, and the capacity to build followership. It also takes tremendous energy and resilience. You have landed your dream job—the question now is whether you are up for it.
Consider two different leaders: Both were new CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Both had track records of success in their previous company. Both entered the role with strong vision, resources, and support from the board. They also inherited equally challenging scenarios including cultures that refused to change and an industry that was rapidly outpacing them—yet one failed and one succeeded. Why?
A closer look reveals that the success of one and the failure of the other were not related to technical skill and knowledge. The determining factor was the ability to maintain conviction and focus in the face of adversity. The successful CEO had a clear vision for the company that superseded the pressure for short-term gain. She also had the ability to confront hard realities and the requisite energy to persist when times were tough. The other CEO started with a strong vision and a great strategy but did not have the conviction to follow through. The more external stress increased, the more indecisive and isolated he became. Most new CEOs assume that if they have been successful in previous jobs, they will be successful in this new role. But the truth is that this next level of leadership comes with a degree of stress and adversity unlike anything they have encountered previously.
One way to ensure that you are prepared for a top job is to adopt some of the habits proven to enhance performance in elite athletes. Staying mentally and physically strong in adverse conditions is not a given. Any great athlete knows that you need to train your mind and your body for the most extreme conditions in order to be prepared for unexpected challenges. Jim Loehr and Jack Groppel, the founders of the Human Performance Institute, did decades of research on this exact phenomenon. They found that the ability to sustain high levels of performance in the toughest of times depends on three things:
• Commitment to an ultimate purpose in life that is bigger than you
• The ability to manage your mental, emotional, and physical energy
• Commitment to staring down the truth and adapting when necessary
Interestingly, we are seeing evidence that the same principles apply in the business realm, although I would probably add a fourth dimension to the above bullets: the ability to surround yourself with great people committed to the same mission and vision. Success in the top job is not a certainty. The tactics used at one level of performance do not always apply at the next. You have to evolve your purpose, your habits, and your coping strategies to ensure resilience and focus. Fortunately, others have been there before you and paved the way. There is a proven path, but it takes a willingness to objectively reexamine parts of your life and the ability to put truth into action. It’s not a journey for the faint of heart, but perhaps no well-lived life ever is.