A broad statistic reinforces: More than half the companies that were industry leaders in 1955 were still industry leaders in 1990. But more than two-thirds of 1990 industry leaders no longer existed by 2004.
Leaders today need to be at home navigating a ship through 40-foot waves — oceans that will never again be serene — and still be able to guide their crew safely from port to port. They must remain highly effective in an environment of extraordinary, ongoing stress.
In his book, Better Under Pressure, Justin Menkes sought to identify the qualities that define leaders who excel in this environment of duress. He gathered performance data for approximately 200 candidates being assessed for the CEO role at major U.S. corporations. These candidates were divided into three groups, with the top-performing quartile labelled "highly successful," the middle two quartiles characterized as "average performers," and the bottom quartile as "highly ineffective."
What emerged was that certain attributes — three in particular — were highly consistent within the top performers, regardless of industry or job type. And, even more interesting, these attributes were almost totally absent among the bottom-performing quartile.
To perform their best in today's turbulent atmosphere, leaders must possess this highly unusual set of three traits that often run counter to natural human behaviour:
- Realistic optimism. Leaders with this trait possess confidence without self-delusion or irrationality. They pursue audacious goals, which others would typically view as impossible pipedreams, while at the same time remaining aware of the magnitude of the challenges confronting them and the difficulties that lie ahead.
- Subservience to purpose. Leaders who see their professional goal as so important that they measure their lives by how much they contribute to furthering that goal. What is more, they must be pursuing a professional goal in order to feel a purpose for living. Their level of dedication to their work is a direct result of the extraordinary, remarkable importance they place on their goal.
- Finding order in chaos. Leaders with this trait find taking on multidimensional problems invigorating, and their ability to bring clarity to quandaries that baffle others makes their contributions invaluable.
According to Menkes, in today's business environment of ever-escalating competition, leaders with these traits are critical to the survival of companies.
The good news is that these three capabilities can be learned. By learning about these attributes, you can become aware of them and choose to build them in yourself. And this can help you bring out the best in those you lead.