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Are you a tiger -- or a cockroach?


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In the battle for longevity, the cockroach beats the tiger. Tigers, fierce as they might be, are on the endangered species list, while cockroaches seem to be capable of withstanding a nuclear attack. (The MythBusters actually injected them with radioactive material—the cockroaches, not the tigers—and they lived!)

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

One of the fundamental decisions in business is when to change and adapt vs. when to stick to your guns. This is a tough question, not only regarding the strategy of the business, but also individual behavior. There are times to be a cockroach, and there are times to be a tiger.

A business must change as the market demands it. Ignore it and you will perish. Blockbuster and Tower Records both once roared like a tiger but went out with a whimper. Many publishers, retailers and perhaps Dell Computer are on the same path.

On an individual level, I believe that strong leaders are necessary, but that acting like a big cat with claws out all of the time will shorten your longevity.

A CEO that I’ve worked with has proven to me that having a long-term view and adapting are often the best practice. I can count four or five situations over the years where he might have logically quit because of situations foisted upon him by his board. He did not. He coolly and calmly examined each one and found a way to persevere. His company is better off and he has been rewarded handsomely. Through much hard work, he has now crafted a relationship with his board that is much healthier and more balanced.

It is not unusual for executives to have numerous situations in their career where they must consciously choose to adapt or fight. Here are some questions you might consider when (not if!) you run into your own nuclear situation:

  1. Is this permanent or temporary?
  2. Does it run afoul of my core values or just make me mad?
  3. Is it really damaging to me and the business or just my ego?
  4. Outside of fight or flight, what other options do I have?
  5. Do I have unreasonable expectations about smooth sailing?
  6. Who has gone through similar situations that I can learn from?

My experience is that it takes reflection, strong values, a bit of luck and a long-term view to reach the right conclusion.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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