The pitfalls of power: Are you vulnerable?

A leading category manager who purchases a $4 billion category of business shared with me during a recent interview that he believes less than 5% of the companies calling on him “truly create meaningful value” and actually “get it.” He went on to share that, “they don’t understand or appreciate my definition of value.”

If you were to ask each of the leaders of the 50 companies that call on this buyer, if they created value, their answer would be “yes.” Most organizations that enjoy even moderate levels of achievement are vulnerable to the pitfalls of success. Recently Booz & Allen shared the three reasons why organizations get tripped up:

  1. Assuming the present looks like the past

  2. Ignoring the advice of peers

  3. Failing to recognize changing nuances

This ‘trifecta’ is a dangerous combination because the future doesn’t look like the past, it takes real leadership strength to seek advice from others, and it takes discipline and objectivity to look for changing nuances in the context of business. In other words, to create value we must all be open, vulnerable to others ideas, and very astute. Not easy in a busy world.

My Category Manager friend reminded me that the best organizations embrace both talent and mindset because they understand that the “who” matters, as much as the “how.” Great teams encourage honest & healthy dissent; attract great talent while also creating the freedom for leaders to be wrong, without serious ramifications. They encourage opposition and don’t punish failure.

Organizations that don’t encourage open mind-sets and critique are vulnerable to demise, and they are not even aware of it. Companies that don’t objectively assess their customer relationships and can’t admit deficiencies are vulnerable to competition. Even if you believe you understand how you are perceived by your customers, research shows that most people are not fully forthcoming and want to avoid confrontation.

Here are a few of the symptoms prior to a fall:

  • Often pride and an inward focus take center stage with leaders and their teams.

  • Success often minimizes the creative tension necessary for break-through & innovation.

  • Momentum often breeds lack of questioning, limited learning and the loss of an edge.

  • A fall can occur when growth is the core focus of an organization, versus a vision that is transcendent & compelling to society and the employees.

  • Becoming hardened to change, not wanting to give up control or thinking you’ve arrived brings on risk and vulnerability. On the other hand, successful companies never lose their identity and often keep the passion of a challenger brand.

In contrast, open minded organizations (the winners) are very conscious of the following principles:

  • The healthiest organizations remain humble, agile, curious and open to informal advisors. They don’t have to be right, to be successful!

  • They do not allow defeats to crush them; instead they become even more inquisitive.

  • They encourage dissenting voices, and reward opposing ideas without risk.

  • They are always pressing in, listening and co-creating with their core customers and partners.

Remember, if you have been winning (and I hope you have), you’re in dangefr and could be more vulnerable than you think. To avoid a fall, stay open, encourage dissent, and look for outsiders to help you see how you can elevate your game.

Dan Mack is founder of the Mack Elevation Forum and a partner in The Swanson Group. To learn more go to


- 10:39 AM says

Hi Dan Many good words of advice. But remember it's a two-sided coin.I have met category managers who think they alone have the right formula or their company has the only true path. The buyer/seller relationship is about compromise not about "who is right or who gets it" MJ

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