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Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, published “Why Smart Executives Fail” 8 years ago.
In it, he shared some of his research on what over 50 former high-flying companies – like Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, Rubbermaid, and Schwinn – did to become complete failures. It turns out that the senior executives at the companies all had 7 Habits in common. Finkelstein calls them the Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives.
These traits can be found in the leaders of current failures like Research In Motion (RIMM), but they should be early-warning signs (cautionary tales) to currently unbeatable firms like Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), and Amazon.com (AMZN). Here are the habits, as Finkelstein described in a 2004 article:
Habit # 1: They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environment
This first habit may be the most insidious, since it appears to be highly desirable. Shouldn’t a company try to dominate its business environment, shape thefuture of its markets and set the pace within them? Yes,but there’s a catch. Unlike successful leaders, failed leaders who never question their dominance fail torealize they are at the mercy of changing circumstances.They vastly overestimate the extent to which they actually control events and vastly underestimate the role of chance and circumstance in their success.
CEOs who fall prey to this belief suffer from the illusion of personal pre-eminence: Like certain film directors, they see themselves as the auteurs of their companies. As far as they’re concerned, everyone else in the company is there to execute their personal visionfor the company. Samsung’s CEO Kun-Hee Lee was so successful with electronics that he thought he could repeat this success with automobiles. He invested $5 billion in an already oversaturated auto market. Why? There was no business case. Lee simply loved cars and had dreamed of being in the auto business.