The problem with being at the top of your game

“The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, … A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

In the movie Patton, George C. Scott repeats a quote attributed to Gen. George S. Patton.

As the astronauts of Apollo 13 were continuing the United States global leadership in space travel, the NASA Mission Control Center (MCC) received an ominous communication. “Houston, we have a problem.”

The biggest problem with being at the top of your game is you’ve become everyone’s target, the standard by which everyone else will measure themselves. You’ve also become the singular point of focus for every competitor in your market.

What do you do when you’re numero uno and the only place to go is down. WRONG! Just because you’re the best doesn’t mean the only place to go is down – you can still improve, get better, increase your lead, run up the score, etc.

Part of being the best is never being satisfied. According to a study by Harvard Business Review (HBR), the organizations least likely to invest in improving themselves are the very companies that see themselves as leaders in their industries.

This isn’t true for every leading organization, it is true for most of them. It’s hard to leave successful people and practices behind to introduce change. Change is the unknown, and as my father said, “I don’t like surprises.”

Getting better isn’t hard, risky, dangerous, costly, or even disruptive to the best your organization has to offer. It’s not complex, although it is complicated and takes resources – time, people, and money.

The process starts with research to understand why you’re better than your competitors. Then put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, what would I do if I was competing against me?

If you think about it for a moment, you’ll come to realize answering that question is what your leadership team is probably doing every day when they think about your competitors. Conscript those efforts and point them at yourself occasionally. The exercise should be an annual aspect of your business planning process, and a must-do for all your strategic planning.

Commit to another of those corny, worn-out expressions that have so much value. Be continuously on the lookout for opportunities to improve, everything, all the time.


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