A friend of mine, who is a recovering alcoholic, once told me that the key thing he’d learned during his recovery was that it is futile to pin your hopes for happiness and future success on things you can’t control. Our conversation came back to me as I watched my football team, Preston North End, throw away a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 to Burnley last Saturday and saw the disappointment and frustration on the fans’ faces.

Luckily, as a North End supporter, I’ve become used to disappointment, and so the defeat was no big deal. However, I still see senior executives who are pinning their hopes for their businesses’ success on the fact that the economy will recover sooner than expected.

Sure, we are all affected by the economy – and a rising tide floats all boats – but it should not be the deciding factor of your company’s fate. Even in the poorest performing markets some companies still succeed and thrive.

For example, Ryanair makes money in the airline industry, Wetherspoons’ chain of pubs continue to deliver profits and Barclays Bank avoided having to go to the government for support during the banking crisis when some of its closest rivals (HBOS, Lehmans) bit the dust.

These companies’ success is built on their advantages, not the attractiveness of their markets. Identifying, building and leveraging your organisation’s competitive advantages should be the #1 task of every CEO.

What share of your time is focused on this critical activity?

© Stuart Cross 2010. All rights reserved.