Proactive leaders thrive where many others fail

Friday July 01 2022

Success is neither a destination nor an event, but rather a series of actions and milestones in a journey. Only hard work, innovation and self-awareness can keep unlocking the doorways to success. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


How long does a transformation cycle take? Throughout history, companies have emerged to occupy top place, reigned for a spell and then got toppled and relegated to the footnotes of history. We have seen this in companies like Motorola that reigned as the kings of mobile telephony only to be toppled by Nokia from Finland.

A few short years later, brands like Apple emerged and then from South Korea a brand called Samsung showed up and occupied prominent space at the top of the pile. Is the cycle of leadership and predominance predictable or is it something that happens accidentally?

What are the attributes of those who topple kings? Is there a common thread tying them together? Do the Davids of today hope to some day topple modern-day Goliaths? Remember, no one was born a Goliath of industry. They grew to become Goliaths by divine providence but were driven/motivated.

So to understand what drives Davids to become Goliaths, we need to delve into their mindsets.

Andy Grove who served as the Intel Corp CEO wrote a bestselling book, Only the Paranoid Survive. This seems to be the one thread that strikingly runs through Davids. There is a healthy paranoia. It is not a fear that paralyses but rather, propels. They never see themselves as having settled. They are always on the lookout for the next big thing.

Desire to stay tops


Bill Gates at the height of Microsoft’s monopoly said they had to stay on their toes because he was sure some start-up would catch them napping. So serious was the paranoia that in his book, Business at the Speed of Thought, he says they plateaued a three-year lifespan for everything they produced and worked on an immediate replacement.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon, displays this paranoia too. He says Amazon is not too big to fail and actually predicts that one day Amazon will fail. Brian Dumaine captures the Bezos sentiments perfectly in his book Bezonomics. He reveals Bezos’ greatest fear as that of Amazon succumbing to what he calls Big-company Disease where employees focus on each other instead of on their customers, and where navigating bureaucracy becomes more important than solving problems.

Defensive gambit

The plateau of death is that place where companies and indeed people wallow in their success. They stop innovating and/or attacking. Their game moves from offensive to defensive. No one ever won on a strategy of defence.

What is the biggest threat to the continued successes of a company? In SWOT analysis, no one ever puts success as a threat but in reality the greatest threat to a successful company is their success. It opens the door wide open for Davids to take over from Goliaths. Remember that Microsoft was once such a David facing the almighty Goliath IBM.

In the book Measure What Matters by John Doerr, the author tells the story of how a ‘David’-sized company called Intel took on a Goliath of the industry called Motorola for the microprocessor’s soul.

Once he got wind of the fact that there was a challenge to the microprocessor, paranoia-driven action kicked in. Grove launched Operation Crush. The memo read: “There is only one company competing with us and that’s Motorola and we have to crush them.”

It was deliberate, well defined and reminiscent of what the little Jewish boy called David told Goliath the Philistine warrior. This Goliath too had moved from attacking who only needed to cow enemies with tales of his past victories. That was his undoing.

A David without a clear objective will never defeat a Goliath. A Goliath without a healthy dose of paranoia and goes on the defensive rather than attack ultimately meets a David that takes him out.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks. Email: [email protected]