Going all in: fortune favors the obsessed
Organizations need obsessive leaders at all levels, if they are to survive and grow in today’s highly competitive landscape. This is even more applicable if they were to disrupt the status quo with a new product or service. Obsession is a necessity but it can also be potentially toxic. It needs to be beautifully embraced but handled with care by the leaders and everyone at the organization.
Beyond grit: all-consuming focus and relentless drive
Obsession at its core is all about undivided focus and relentless drive to achieve an audacious goal. In other words, its grit taken to the extremes. However, unlike grit, obsession carries downsides that if unmanaged, it can be costly to the organization.
Realizing one’s obsession potentially requires self-awareness and self-regulation. Obsession also needs to be balanced with skillful supervision and well-designed checks and balances.
Delighting customers: Jeff Bezos & Amazon
Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s unrelenting focus on customer service has resulted in its explosive growth over the decades. This is still true to date as customer service (along with artificial intelligence) remains at the core of its strategic flywheel.
Bezos started out with offering products that customers always want but at far more choices, faster delivery and lower prices. Amazon also invested heavily in innovation and creating its own products and services that customers don’t know they’ll need but soon come to value. For Jeff Bezos and Amazonians, it’s always about maintaining their Day 1 mentality, where every customer matters, every penny counts and every innovation makes a difference.
Building great products: Elon Musk & Tesla
Elon Musk believes great companies build great products. And so, everything Tesla builds focuses on making delightful and cutting-edge products that make a difference to the society. Musk is also a technologist and a visionary who believes in ‘leading from the front’. He is said to be intimately involved in the design and operational aspects of the firms he leads and the products they’re creating.
The ultimate goal of Elon Musk is to build an organization staffed at all levels by highly driven and talented people. This is especially true for design and engineering functions. In fact, Musk pushes himself and his employees to the extremes – and in so doing rusks undermining what he has achieved.
Juicing growth: Travis Kalanick & Uber
Travis Kalanick was the driving force behind Uber, effectively providing ridesharing as a viable transportation alternative. Since the rise of Uber empire, many companies around the world have copied their business model.
Travis was particularly obsessive with growth that he took priority over doing what was right. The result was a series of missteps and scandals that threatened to undermine what Travis and his team had built, and eventually his demise. Unfortunately, he had no one on his board, executive team or group of advisors to protect him from his obsessive nature.
The individual’s choice: all in or not?
Vocation is the belief in one’s calling to engage in a specific type of work. For people who find and embrace their vocation, the goal is to select the organization that is the best fit. In doing so, one needs to take the mission, the culture and the values of a firm into account.
Being vocationally obsessed isn’t by always a risk-free undertaking. In some cases, it requires physical, mental and social routines to avoid the pitfalls of being all-in.
The organization’s challenge: nourishing obsession
Organizations are ambivalent about obsession, given its potential for good and bad. They want the perks of it but without any significant downsides. Savvy organizational design can dramatically reduce the risks of obsession. This includes a firm’s decision around its people, culture and values.
Well-designed safeguards are necessities but they shouldn’t become corporate red tapes in offering the best service to the world. Above all, leaders at all levels must learn to sustain their unrelenting focus on the next step while not becoming too distracted from their primary purpose.