The Lens of Competitive Greatness

August 30, 2022

By Michael Kayes, CFA Charterholder


You probably didn’t know this about me, but I love binoculars. I keep one on my desk at home and love to observe all the different birds that visit our wooded backyard. A powerful binocular lens brings the smallest detail into sharp focus. I’ve learned that the yellow beak of a cardinal, over-sized relative to their small heads, is a formidable tool as they search for food and fortify their nests. Even more amazing are the eyes of the great barred owl, which may be the coolest thing in all of bird world.

Lenses make all the difference in what we perceive and how we ultimately determine reality. In today’s world, virtually everything we are exposed to is presented through some lens, too many to mention all of them, but they include lenses of all kinds. Some of the disturbing ones include: conservative, liberal, progressive, social justice, angry, hopeless, sarcastic, partisan, manipulative, conspiratorial, and dishonest. Fortunately, there are hopeful lenses that can provide a perspective that is kind, forgiving, and grateful. Unless you identify the lens behind the source of information or opinion you are exposed to, your evaluation may be inaccurate, relative to objective reality.

Does this even matter? It might not for an individual, but it does matter for public corporations. Here’s why. Top management at corporations large and small are responsible for driving long-term success. They determine the organization’s strategic vision, goals and objectives, and how they are going to achieve them. They create the culture, the lifeblood of how a company interacts with employees, customers, and business partners. Over the long run, the most effective and successful business executives all develop a servant leadership style, to some degree. In short, they put the interests of others before themselves. They approach every situation through a lens of humility, integrity, and self-sacrifice. In doing so, they typically achieve more than they ever could through a more self-centered approach. In certain situations, it can even become, in a sense, the lens of competitive greatness.

When leaders replace this lens, everything at the company changes, over time. I’m not sure when this trend began, not sure that even matters, but what does matter is that this trend is growing. More and more companies are replacing the lens of competitive greatness with one that produces an entirely different focus. Over time this alternative view will make these companies less competitive in the global economy. It can happen slowly, even subtly, as entrepreneurialism becomes bureaucratic stagnation, inspirational teamwork is transformed into cliques and turf wars, and trust dissolves into back-stabbing and political correctness. Over-regulation, politicization, and crony capitalism are the tell-tale signs that the lens of competitive greatness has been replaced.

Despite this unsettling trend in corporate America, there is a bright side. Servant leadership may be rare, but it remains powerful. As our overall global competitiveness continues to erode, there will be opportunities for servant leaders and their loyal followers to create new organizations and outcompete companies who have lost the focus that made their initial success possible.

How could anyone fight against this demoralizing trend if they were so inclined?…. How about this idea? I’m working on a design for a MBASL ball cap. “Made by a Servant Leader.” That will be one of my goals for 2023 – to search for and do business with companies run by servant leaders. What will one of these leaders or companies look like? Here are a few attributes to look for:

  • They will under promise and over deliver
  • They will honor their word, even when the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits
  • Their handshake will be as good as a written contract
  • They will accept blame for all mistakes and take none of the credit for accomplishments
  • Their products and services will be high quality and fairly priced

I hope to share the names of some of these MBASL companies as I develop relationships with them. I also hope that by supporting them they will grow and prosper, and that their success will inspire other leaders and companies to do likewise. Of course, if this idea bombs, I’ll accept all of the blame. If it transforms our nation into all that it can be, I’ll take none of the credit. That would go to God.

Michael Kayes, CFA Charterhlder

Exencial Wealth Advisors is an SEC-registered investment adviser. Any references to the terms “registered investment adviser” or “registered,” do not imply that Exencial or any person associated with Exencial has achieved a certain level of skill or training.

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