Slideshow: 2012 ISPA Conference & Expo

The opening keynote speaker was noted business author Jim Collins; Built to Last and Good to Great are among his six titles. Collins had addressed the ISPA crowd previously, in 2007, but prepared completely new material this time, as today's is indeed a much different business climate.

Collins spent an hour talking, but I could have listened to many more. He brought his concepts and recommendations for creating successful businesses to life with wide-ranging and relevant examples from the real world. For this presentation, he shared a story from his latest book, Great by Choice, detailing a famous exploration from October 1911—Roald Amundsen's and Robert Falcon Scott's race to the South Pole. As some may know, the two men set out within day of each other to be the first to reach the Pole. They had similar experience and equipment, but Amundsen reached the pole 34 days ahead of Scott, who, along with his four team members, perished on the journey. Collins used this example to pose this question: Why do some leaders thrive and achieve results in difficult environments, while others fail?

Turns out Amundsen had three traits that Collins feels are imperative for great leaders. Here, he explains each:

Fanatic Discipline—Amundsen and his team planned a 20-mile march each day. No matter the weather, good or bad, they were consistent. Great leaders are consistent day in, day out, and do not waver from their mission, nor do they overreach. Every successful leader and company has their own version of the “20-mile march.” The key is to commit to a plan and stick to it. “Those who consistently change the world are persistent,” Collins said, adding that companies with a 20-mile march don’t have to create a new plan every morning.

Empirical Creativity—In the South Pole expeditions, Scott chose to use new and untested methods, while Amundsen stuck to the tried and true. The lesson here? Be data-driven. Use what you know to explore potential. “First fire bullets; then fire cannonballs,” Collins explained.

Productive Paranoia—Be aware of what your competition is doing, but don’t take your eye off the ball. Worry about the facts that have not yet happened. Preserve the core and stimulate progress at the same time.