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Tips For Sustaining Overnight Success


By Aaron K. Olson and B. Keith Simerson, co-authors of “Leading with Strategic Thinking: Four Ways Effective Leaders Gain Insight, Drive Change, and Get Results


Successful entrepreneurs walk the proverbial “razor’s edge.” Their challenge: to leverage the personal attributes that contributed to their initial success while figuring out what it takes to remain successful on an ongoing basis. Often these are different things.

While self-confidence and persistence — together with good luck — might contribute to first success, our experience suggests that sustained success relies on capabilities and actions not found in typical entrepreneurs. While not common, that isn’t to say it can’t be done. Entrepreneurs interested in what it takes to lead in ways that create lasting value can learn from the insights we recently obtained from studying over 300 executives from nine countries.

Our observations and the personal experiences of these executives have led us to recognize a fundamental tenet: sustained results can’t stem from a single individual thinking and acting as a Lone Ranger. Rather, strategic leaders understand that while long-lasting success might originate from a single individual it gains momentum through a multitude of followers who become true believers in the cause. Given that, it’s worth examining what successful leaders do to enroll others — how do strategic leaders secure the buy-in, contribution, and advocacy of others?

As a strategic leader, capture the hearts of your followers.

Take steps to set the stage for optimal team success by establishing an environment of trust. Members of your team may or may not direct “discretionary effort” toward your mission or movement. While trust may not guarantee that your followers will go above and beyond what is required of them the absence of trust almost guarantees that they will not. Strive to align your values and priorities with those of your followers. During moments of truth, do the right thing. Give your followers an opportunity to contribute to your effort in a meaningful way. Encourage them to try things, not the routine and commonplace but rather things that are significant. Of equal importance: be sure to react properly when your followers make mistakes (yes, assume mistakes will be made).

As a strategic leader, engage the minds of your followers.

In a visible and noteworthy way, recognize the importance of the follower’s contribution and stress to them the risks associated with their failing to succeed. Ensure necessary knowledge exists within your team. Involve your followers when creating or refining your organizational structure and its systems and processes. Keep in mind this important tenet: to harness the commitment of your followers you must include them in your decisions and involve them in your efforts. Leverage all that technology has to offer in soliciting their input, assistance, and support. As your followers strengthen and improve the mechanics and mechanisms of your success, be sure to identify and share lessons learned and best practices.

As a strategic leader, leverage both hands of your followers.

As a strategic leader, determine what your followers must do to contribute to — and ultimately ensure — the realization of your vision. Do what you must do to assess the knowledge, skills, and abilities of your followers and take steps through as many development mechanisms as possible to ensure needed capabilities exist. Coach them. Train them. Give them the right experiences. Help your followers understand the information and supplies they need to succeed. Make sure they are aware of the resources that they have access to—and watch to ensure that they properly employ the mechanisms (tools), and mechanics (actions) of success. Last but not least, monitor progress and actively seek out opportunities to roll up your sleeves to work side-by-side with your followers. This will pay dividends: it will help bolster familiarity, further instill trust, as well as reinforce the importance of thinking and functioning as a team to drive results.


Aaron K. Olson is Chief Talent Officer at Aon plc, a global firm specializing in risk management and human resources. He is the co-author of the book “Leading with Strategic Thinking” and teaches graduate courses in the MSLOC program at Northwestern University.

Keith Simerson, Ed.D. provides consultation, executive coaching and leadership development in the areas of strategy formulation and execution. He is the co-author of”Leading with Strategic Thinking” and four additional books including “Strategic Planning: A Practical Guide to Strategy Formulation and Execution“. He teaches graduate courses in the MSLOC program at Northwestern University.