Five Marks Of Death, And Their Vaccines

five marks of death by Richard Shrapnel

Great businesses are grown by focusing on customer value and sticking to a purpose aligned to customer need. But your market will always be changing and therefore so must you. Your ability to lead change will reflect your likelihood of succeeding.

In my most recent articles, I highlighted the need for leaders to make a range of critical strategic decisions, such as:

  • Identifying clearly who their customers are, and therefore who are not customers.
  • Recognising what their needs are and actively engaging them in the evolution of your service/product.
  • Not allowing the business to focus on profit ahead of customer need and value.
  • Unearthing the barriers that can inhibit change and removing them.
  • Not forgetting what has made the business successful and going off on a tangent.
  • Always looking at the world through your customers’ eyes to understand their needs.
  • Underpinning the business with a purpose aligned to customer need.
  • Competing in a posture that draws your business’s competitive strengths to the forefront in delivering value so you can always out-compete others.

Recurring themes through these articles have been purpose, customer need and competitive posture. And the capability to look to the future and be able to adapt, so as to sustain competitiveness. Growing a great business requires that you not be rigid but rather adaptable and always shifting to a position of strength, which means a position of delivering greater customer value.

There are early warning signs that reflect your business’s resistance and inability to change that you can monitor and then eliminate should they surface.

I describe these traits as the five marks of death (yes, a bit melodramatic but good for getting a leader’s attention) and they are as follows:

  1. Living in past glories: The language in the business is all about yesterday. What great things were done in years past, what successes were achieved, and who achieved them. It’s about upholding the past often to secure and protect those who were around at that time.
  2. An absence of youth: Not youth in terms of age, but youth in terms of vigour, energy, a passion to explore, to try things differently, to challenge the status quo and to ask ‘why?’ at the most annoying of times. It is reflected through a lack of unbridled energy.
  3. Naysayers rule: There are always one of two answers for anyone who wants to try something new:
    1. ‘We tried that once and it didn’t work, so we’re not doing it again.’
    2.  ‘We’ve never tried that, and look how successful we have been, so why would we want to do it now?’
  4.  A lack of evangelism: There is no enthusiasm for what is possible and what the business does and stands for. There is no one out in the market selling how amazing the business is, for what it does for its customers, employees and the community. No one really cares.
  5. Carnal leadership: Leadership are only interested in themselves. It’s all about upholding their position, their glories, their rewards and their security. Everyone is kept in place to ensure they are lifted up.

What is the counter, the vaccine, for each of these marks?

  1. Live for the future: Honour the past but always look to the future and what it will take to be successful. Talk always about the future and what opportunities and possibilities it presents.
  2. We are all young, no matter how old we are: Look for leaders who have a passion for change and an energy to always do better. Leaders who are always trying something new and encouraging others to do the same.
  3. Let’s give it a go: The rule is ‘If we haven’t tried it then let’s give it a go, and if we did once before then let’s do it again and get it right this time’. Don’t quash passion but rather feed it.
  4. Let me sing: If you are not excited to work for us, if you don’t look forward to coming to work each day, if you’re not proud of who you work for, then please find another job.
  5. No, you first: The rule is: customers first, employees second, and leaders somewhere last. Always uplift someone else, and never put yourself first.

To compete effectively, to be able to make the critical strategic decisions you need to make, to be able to grow a great business, an enduring business, never allow any of these five marks of death to take a foothold in your business.

Eliminate them at first sight, and be warned they are given birth to by leadership at all levels of your business. And maybe even you.


Active Knowledge Questions:

  1. Do you look at your business, from a distance, and ask what is the culture that exists and how may that influence performance?
  2. Do you know what type of culture you want to exist in your business?
  3. If yes, then write down, now, the traits in your business that evidence that culture.
  4. List the key leaders in your business and, for each leader, how their actions reflect the traits you wish to see in your business.
  5. How do these traits relate back to the marks of death and vaccines listed above?

Act Now:

Need to lift the leadership performance in your business? Learn how in C88 – Leadership Performance Guide and Journal.

Or download Leadership Talk – Great Leaders Building Great Businesses now for free.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel