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How much of a single individual’s character is repeated on the larger level of the organization? More than we may imagine. Having recently read Jim Collins book How the Mighty Fall and reread Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why by Laurence Gonzales I noticed a high degree of similarity between individuals and companies who can fall into life threatening situations.

Survivors, be they individuals or corporations share characteristics. Collins describes the 5 stages that the mighty who fall experience:

1. Hubris born of success

2. Undisciplined pursuit of more

3. Denial of risk and peril

4. Grasping for salvation

5. Capitulation to irrelevance or death

Even as late as the 4th stage, companies can pull themselves out of decline. Stage 5 is NOT inevitable. Collins states that leaders who can pull a company out of stage four, that is survive, had the following leadership characteristics:

  • Calm
  • Focused
  • Clear-headed
  • Decisive
The specific companies cited that built back from stage 4, such as Xerox, have leaders who believe in the core of the company, who refuse to give up on what has worked, and accept the reality of the situation. They have leaders who want to hear the bad news so as to make informed decisions.

Collins’ list of corporate survivors have leaders who show a remarkable degree of concordance with people who survived in extreme situations such as avalanches, climbing accidents, vehicle accidents in remote areas, etc. The list of characteristics survivors tend to hold in common are:

  • Perceive, believe—recognize the reality of their situation
  • Stay calm, use fear rather than surrendering to it
  • Think/analyze/plan
  • Take correct decisive action
  • Celebrate success—even the smallest
  • Count their blessings
  • Play, invent
  • See beauty in the world
  • Believe they will succeed
  • Surrender to what is – let go of pain, put away fear
  • Do whatever is necessary
  • Never give up
  • Have a compelling reason to live

The question is are you a survivor? Is the organization you work for? The way out of our current economic situation will not be a quick fix. Collins’ points out that grasping at straws and looking for saviors is almost a guarantee of failure. What we all need is a dose of calm, acceptance of what is, decisive action and the will to succeed.

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Expanded information, case studies, business applications and missed opportunities from the real world that you can use to further leadership development in your organization, is in our quarterly journal Leaders’ Work. For a sample issue, click here