The danger of having a superior complex

  • Business
  • Thursday, 08 May 2003

SOME corporate leaders have a dangerous superman complex and imagine that nothing is impossible for them. They would think that they are so strong that there could not possibly be any enemy who could defeat them. An organisation will be endangered by such a leader who would be trying to do things, not only beyond his capabilities and resources, but those of the organisation. There will be a fatal failure to deal effectively with change. 

In ancient times, the leader could be called “Your Omnipotence” (i.e. can do anything). Such a leader has a false sense of what he can do. He becomes a boss and a tyrant. He will drive his people mercilessly and get angry when things are not as he wants. 

In difficult country, never encamp. Where high roads intersect, keep in contact with your allies. Do not linger on in dangerously isolated places. When hemmed in use stratagem. In desperate position, fight. There are some roads which must not be followed; some armies we must not fight; some cities we must not besiege, some positions we must not contest; some orders from the ruler we must not obey. Sun Tzu 8:2-3 

You will hear statements like “Nothing is impossible”, “I don’t care how you do it do it”. The strategic defect of such stubbornness is a dangerous presumption about the capabilities and readiness of the organisation. Many corporations paid the price for looking down on potential competitors. 

Anyone who lacks foresight and treats the enemy with contempt and disdain will only end up being captured. Sun Tzu 9:41. 

In war-like conditions, even as in modern business, nothing must be assumed. To avoid danger, one must master the art of trend analysis and forecasting, otherwise, one could fail to deal with arising change and could lose sizeable portions of the market. The leader must be perceptive and anticipate how the resources of his organisation would respond to changes in the field. 

Seek to reduce those hostile neighbouring states by bringing harm to them. Keep them constantly engaged. Hold out superficial advantages to make them rush to a point. The art of war tells us not to assume the enemy will not come, but instead we must be ready for his coming; not to presume he will not attack, but instead to make our own position unassailable. Sun Tzu 8:10-11 

There was a time when IBM ignored the growing trend for desktop computers and tried to hold on to its mainframes. Luckily for IBM, the shareholders eventually kicked out the then chairman and installed one who rose to the challenge.  

However, IBM did not anticipate that Microsoft would eventually upstage it, and initially provided wrong leadership about the direction IBM should go. Microsoft’s alliance with other hardware producers ate into IBM sales. IBM was too busy dealing with manufacturers of the hardware and did not then realise the software was going to control the computer field and determine the shape of hardware. IBM started to buy software companies to ride with the trend. 

The Microsoft case is interesting. Microsoft was coming up with something new which was revolutionising the computer environment. What Microsoft demonstrated was that, with creativity, a small company can take on a large “superman” corporation. The earlier desktops challenging the mainframe also showed that small creative firms can rise to the challenge and replace big corporations. 

Many corporations mushroomed owing to the ability of their leaders to borrow large sums of money. Borrowing large sums of money should be considered a stroke of luck, which many leaders wrongly equate with their capabilities.  

The truth is that after borrowing the money you must generate enough revenue to pay back the loans with profits, and this is where the test of leadership really lies. Otherwise, not recognising the need for creativity, these leaders would just try to use their money to muscle in on everything. 

Creativity is a crucial hallmark of winning leadership. 

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