Business strategists and analysts have often equated corporate success with the concept of competitive advantage – a company’s ability to achieve a sustainable advantage over and above their competition, for an extended period of time.

A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review by Rita Gunther McGrath challenges this idea, arguing that success can be better defined in terms of a business’s ability to reinvent itself and adapt, rather than simply maintain a lasting advantage over time. The term she coins to describe this strategic goal is transient advantage.

According to Gunther McGrath, the best way for businesses to achieve a Transient Advantage is by having a leadership team that continually reflects on the competitive environment in which it is operating, to glean challenges that lie ahead and develop strategy. In reality, this visionary leadership role can often succumb to management, i.e. becoming preoccupied with the day-to-day management of the company. They focus on helping their managers with problem solving, crisis management, and the business of today. However, top executives should ideally be able to delegate day-to-day responsibilities to their team, so that they can step out as real leaders and actively plan for tomorrow.

“Day-to-Day” Feels Less Intimidating

“Managers” can get trapped in the multitude of responsibilities that come with meeting current demand, and the successes – and the stresses – of the moment. Those who notice shifts in the marketplace may not wish to acknowledge them, and cling to the hope that their business will be sustainable in a new environment.

Hope is not a business strategy. Leaders need to anticipate change in the competitive environment, and plan to, potentially, exit a business line before it becomes unprofitable. At the same time, they need to create a plan for an equally, or more, successful replacement business and begin to implement it.


  • Leaders work on their businesses rather than in them.
  • Leaders think strategically and do not rest on either past success, or an outdated competitive advantage.
  • Leaders keep pace with the changes in technology and consumer preferences, and continually move their businesses forward.
  • Leaders worry less about operational concerns, and more about creating and implementing strategy and adjusting to the economic and competitive landscapes.
  • Leaders question whether what is currently being done should still be done tomorrow. Some people call these the Start Doing, Stop Doing and Continue Doing Lists.

When transitioning focus from the business of today to the business of tomorrow, managers become leaders. Ultimately, when it comes to sustaining transient advantage, leaders are needed to step up and navigate a path forward to success.