Organizations, like living organisms, are born to die. Often, their end comes naturally once they have fulfilled their role in a mature marketplace. Others eventually kick the proverbial bucket because they underestimated the ability of an unknown competitor who emerges and takes them out. The corporate graveyard also is full of organizations that died prematurely shortly after birth or passed on to the great beyond while they were still in adolescence. Fewer are those who live to a ripe old age and are lauded instead of eulogized for their longevity, creative innovation and sustaining. What makes the difference between the winners and the losers in this reality-show race for business survival? What is it that gives businesses blessed with long lifelines the ability to prolong their years? How can we managers help our businesses (and possibly our careers) cheat death?


As an educator, I love that one of the first and foremost qualities most great CEOs possess is their drive for knowledge. New York Times columnist and author Adam Bryant includes the trait in his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, and I couldn’t agree more. As managers, we may exude self-reliance to spare in front of others. But deep down and behind the scenes, a winning leader is one with a passion for wondering how things work and what everyone else knows. Great leaders ask to understand, question to challenge the status quo and imagine to promote the possibilities of change. It is this search for deeper understanding that may allow us to connect the unconnected in a way our competitor does not see.


Leaders don’t say ‘if ’ or ‘when.’ More than anything else, these conjunctions can kill a business’ acceleration before it even leaves the gate. Those of us with a clear vision not only stay on the right track. We also bring others with us. As Jim Collins writes in Good to Great, real leaders look realistically at their environment and then they do something about the problems they find. Crafting a vision with all stakeholders in mind, based on the situation, either good or bad, allows leaders to engage and enlighten, as well as keep a company grounded. Few businesses these days find themselves lucky enough to be juggling unlimited resources. The status quo is now ‘less.’ Right here and right now, organizations need leaders who are capable of repairing damage today and authoring change strategies tomorrow. Our nation and world continue to grapple with economic issues and new political challenges. In a time when so much is at stake for businesses and careers, practicing and pursuing the art of great leadership is not and never should be a spectator sport. With death of a business as the possible consequence, the stakes are just too high.

Benjamin Ola. Akande is Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology and chief of corporate partnerships at Webster University. Follow him on Twitter: @Benjamin_Akande