Leading a startup is extreme, tough work. One hundred years ago, the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen and his team planted the Norwegian flag on the South Pole, defeating the British team, led by Robert Falcon Scott, by 34 days.
Morten Hansen and Jim Collins studied who won big in highly uncertain industries, and found commonalities between those leaders -Bill Gates, Andy Grove and Herb Kelleher- and Amundsen.
I found that the outcomes of their research make sense for startups too. Like Amundsen, your startup is bound on a mission. You labor on, sometimes hungry, often exhausted. You face severe weather conditions but you march on because you know it takes sacrifices.
In What It Takes to Win: Extreme Lessons from Polar Explorers, Morten Hansen lays out four traits of winners in uncertain industries. By choosing unity before competence, men like Amundsen and Gates more than once booted high-performers because they didn’t fit. They couldn’t risk people fracturing their team, and ultimately jeopardizing the whole mission.
Like Amundsen, the best business leaders channeled paranoia; they were hyper-vigilant about potentially bad events that can hit your company and turned that fear into preparation and clearheaded action.
Amundsen spent his entire life learning things for polar exploration; he cultivated a growth mindset. Psychologists advocate the importance of this; learn by doing overcomes innate natural skill and intelligence.
Not all time in life is equal. People often get stuck in routine work and fail to see disruptions and big changes. Great leaders have an ability to “zoom out” (what’s the new situation?) and “zoom in” (change the course).
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