3 Sure-Fire Warning Signs You’re Failing as an Executive Leader


Admit it  - it’s not a word that sits well with you.

If you’re like the typical leader, you’re personally committed to your own success and the success of your organization.

Failure is not in your vocabulary.

But leaders actually do fail at an alarming rate. Even hardworking leaders like you are not immune.

And you’re immunity is even lower if you’re one of those leaders that’s got it all figured out and won’t listen to input.

In fact, you might be failing yourself, right now.

It’s not too late to turn it around though. If you squarely face three distinct warning signs, you can avert or even avoid failure.

Sign #1: You’re hemorrhaging market share to your competitors

If you’re losing business at a rapid rate, the finger will point right back at you. Case in point is J.C. Penney. We all watched with tortured fascination as it lost market share faster than air escaping a balloon.

As this happened, all eyes turned to CEO Ron Johnson, the former Target and Apple exec hired to breathe new life into the venerable retailer. Johnson had architected a massive chain-wide store redesign and a “fair and square” pricing approach.

Unfortunately, this approach resulted in a $1 billion loss and a 25% loss in sales his first year on the job. His approach went over like a lead balloon with consumers.

Then he was fired.

Key Takeaway: Pay close, continuous attention to the market and how your customers are voting with their dollars.

Lose the bubble on this one and you risk failure.

One thing you can do to avoid failure: Put in a process that keeps you updated on the key metrics of your business performance. The output of this process is your “executive dashboard” that keeps you focused on what really matters for your organization.

So you can stop the bleeding and keep it from even starting.

Sign #2: Your old strategy isn’t working any more.

Before the iPhone and Android, there was BlackBerry.

Maybe you had one. It used to be the coolest thing.

But that was then and this is now.

With the rise of the smartphones, BlackBerry is being squeezed out and is fighting for its life.

BlackBerry based its strategy on what had been working for it since its inception: reliable, secure email and a few apps using a closed development platform.

Android and Apple went with different development platforms.  The big thing they did differently?

Tons of useful apps.

Key Takeaway: It’s easy to keep riding the strategy that won you your first race. After all, it worked.

However, the competition is always out there, looking for ways to beat it. You not only need a strategy, but you also need one that is continuously tuned to the competitive conditions of your space.

If not, you may find yourself becoming extinct.

Just like the BlackBerry.

One thing you can do to avoid failure: Use scenario-based strategic planning to provide you a dynamic window on possible futures. Scenario-based strategic planning allows you to better understand your competitive space and the macro drivers of change that are at work.

You then connect that understanding to decision-making and your core operational processes.

The end result if done well?

You’re prospering like Android and Apple rather than dying like BlackBerry.

Sign #3: Your customer service reps are always saying "sorry"

“My brand new water heater isn’t heating water.”

“We’re so sorry about that. Can you describe to me the problem again?”

Grrrrr!!!  Talk about jaw tightening.  You know what being on the customer side of these calls is like—pretty infuriating.

But what if you’re on the other side—the customer service side.

My cousin used to work for a bio-tech company. They sold a technology platform that automated the data analysis for agricultural companies.

Problem was that the software behind the platform didn’t work as advertised. The fix always seemed to be “just an upgrade away.”

One time, my cousin was dispatched to troubleshoot the problem for a big German firm that had purchased the platform. However, he had nothing to offer them—the fix wasn’t ready.

The German firm dumped my cousin’s company… and soon thereafter my cousin dumped them too.

“We’re sorry about that” takes on a whole new meaning when you start losing sales and employees.

Key Takeaway: Don’t accept “we’re sorry” as your default answer.

Learn from the bad news and use it to create good news.

One thing you can do to avoid failure: Talk directly with the people who are closest to the customers and get the answer to this question, "What's our customers' number one gripe?"

Your customer service team will give you an earful.

Use this information to fix the reasons for that gripe, and turn “We’re sorry” into “We’re glad you’re happy.”

The Upshot of These Sure-Fire Warning Signs of Failure

As an executive leader, failure is an ever-present threat.

But it's not inevitable.

Smart leaders proactively scan the environment for warning signs of impending danger.

They use these signs to take action and keep their organizations healthy.

Give yourself a health check today using these three warning signs and see how you measure up.

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