Many believe we have a life force that animates us. In fact, some people have so much of this force that we struggle to define it. We use “charisma” and “natural leader” to describe this energy, but all we know for sure is that such energy can be so strong you can’t ignore it.

I’d like to suggest that the same can be said for companies. Some are driven by a force so powerful that people want to be associated with it. Others are on life support, doing a fine imitation of the walking dead.

What determines the strength of a corporate life force?

First, let me tell you what does not determine it: financial statements, procedures, policies, or routine. Like clothes on a person, they are necessary but not nearly enough to power a dynamic existence.

Too many companies cling to necessities like these, thinking that with enough focus, they will harness energy and power growth. That’s like telling a leader that if he changes his tie, next year his company will grow twice as fast. It’s just not true.

In many ways, life force stems from a company’s attitudes about risk. You can’t hide in a corner and have an exciting life. Likewise, if you take foolhardy risks, you won’t be around too long.

Vibrant companies both embrace risks and take prudent steps to balance it. Rather than avoid failure at all costs, they try to lessen the cost of failure (i.e. fail fast and cheaply). They test many options, and pursue those that pan out.

The people who lead dynamic companies have the same personal approach to risk: they view it as part of life, something that creates opportunity and also sharpens their abilities.

When a leader gets stuck, it’s a pretty good bet that his or her company will soon follow suit. Stuck leaders create stuck companies.

Why do you imagine I chose to bring up the idea of a corporate life force? It’s not because I’m trying to get all New Age on you.

By asking the question, “What can breathe life into this company?”, you immediately reject 95% of the tactics some stuck leaders employ, such as:

  • Doing the same thing over and over
  • Rejecting every new idea by either saying “We don’t do that here” or “We tried that once and it failed”
  • Waiting for a miracle

The question sets a higher standard for what you want to achieve, and it emboldens talent to think bigger. “What can breathe life into this company?” won’t generate suggestions about saving money by recycling pencils, but it might spark plans to enter new industries and launch new services.

Every now and then, I visit a company and it feels like I’m attending a funeral. New ideas aren’t allowed. Employees know that only certain answers and practices are acceptable. Sales are stagnant or declining. The leader’s office feels like a bunker rather than the bridge of a starship.

In the case of a company, life force comes from many people pulling together behind a bold and feasible vision. They not only back each other up, but also challenge each other to perform at higher levels. They are on an exciting ride, and they don’t want to get off.

Life force is not something you only feel outside of work. It is something you bring to work, to share with others and to create an even bigger life force.

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