Business Model Or Leadership Character?

That was the question a young man asked me recently. I reflected for a moment over the past 25 years, and answered this way: “No.  I’ve worked with over 400 businesses, and in that pack there were lots of different business models. What I’ve seen is that the model is less important than the implementation on the part of the company’s leadership.”

Let me explain.

It is, of course, possible to have a flawed business model.  But, honestly, I have only seen one or two of those, where, no matter what the leadership does, the business is not going to survive. It’s just a bad idea.

These are usually the result of people who are passionate about a product or idea.  Unfortunately, that passion displaces common sense, and they ride that idea until it has siphoned their resources and depleted their energy. (See my post on Shark Tank, American Idol and Perseverance)

The world is not full of bad business models.  On the other hand, it is crammed with models that can and do succeed, providing the leadership is effective.

Far more important are the skills and character of the leadership. Drop a highly skilled, high-character entrepreneur into any model, in any market, and watch as he/she leads that company to growth, prosperity and market leadership.

That’s something that I have seen over and over again. Here’s a case in point.  The 2008 downturn pretty much wiped out about 60% of the companies who distributed building materials and supplies to the residential home building industry.  As you recall, that industry went away for a couple of years, and the damage up and down the supply chain was extraordinary.

As a sales trainer and consultant, I had a number of clients in that industry.  Most are not around anymore.  A few have survived and prospered. Even in an industry that was free-falling, some companies found their way through the chaos and emerged whole and functioning on the other side.

While I can’t make any observations about those who failed, I have observed that those who survived were almost always lead by high-character, well-motivated, highly-skilled executives and owners.

Even in today’s economy, I find companies in highly competitive, mature industries, who, in spite of lots of competition and a flat market, find a way to outperform their rivals, grow more rapidly, and continually take market share.  You’ll find them in almost every industry.

They are, however, the exception, not the rule.

They are the exception because they realize a fundamental truth about business success.

The ultimate path for business success is far more about improving yourself than it is about finding the right product, market or model.

If I had another crack at my budding entrepreneur, I would take him off to the side and counsel him this way.

Business always involves money, people and systems.  Learn all you can about each.

Consciously build your character.  Find a high purpose for your business.  Build qualities of character:  Respect for others, discipline, honesty, integrity, curiosity, commitment to learning and improvement, prudence, generosity. The list can go on for a bit.  One good starting point is the Bible,

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“….make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly love and to brotherly kindness, love.    If you possess these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…”  (2 Peter 1: 5 – 7)[/message] [su_spacer]

Alas, that’s not the answer my budding entrepreneur would want. He was looking for an elixir, an easy option that would enhance his chances of success.  Can’t he just Google it on his cell phone?

No.  The real answer is a much more difficult path.


Dave Kahle
Dave Kahle
YOUR business can be much more than just a money-making enterprise. Helping you achieve that potential is Dave Kahle’s passion. He has been helping business grow for 30 years. The author of The Good Book on Business, he’s written 12 other books, which have been published in eight languages and distributed around the world, and has presented in 47 states and 11 countries. He has personally and contractually worked with over 459 companies, and touched thousands of others through his seminars, speaking engagements, and webinars. You’ll find him challenging your paradigms and prompting you to think more deeply.

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  1. I love the advice you would give to your budding entrepreneur. I wonder how many people actually recognize the quotes and philosophies tossed around today have their original roots in the Bible. My guess is, not many. Back in Philippians, we find that thinking right thoughts lead to right actions. And that’s just the beginning. I appreciate your article and the message of character it conveys. This quote by John Wooden continues your thought. “Ability gets you to the top; character keeps you there.”

  2. Dave – This article should be posted in every business lobby in the country. Although many won’t get the message, some will and those will be the successful people going forward.

    Having worked across many industries, Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike, there has been one common thread to the great companies.

    Great leadership that has a long term vision bigger than the business, values and principles that are demonstrated every day, and a people awareness whose talent forms the cornerstone that drives the success.

    Once again. A great, great article, Dave

  3. Dave – great article and your years of experience working with businesses challenging their paradigms would be of great benefit for growth and success. What stood out for me in your article is your statement: “I have observed that those who survived were almost always lead by high-character, well-motivated, highly-skilled executives and owners.” For me, this is a key for inspiring both the self and others to reach their highest potential bringing a company to an elevated state of viability to produce and excel.

  4. Dave – Really good article on things that need to be considered before you begin the process of starting a new business. I especially like this gem of wisdom: “Business always involves money, people and systems. Learn all you can about each.” That sums up the starting point that will get a person on the road to success. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.