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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Archive for the ‘Failure’ Category

How You Respond to Failure Defines You as a Leader

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Every one of us experiences failures and faces adversities. Our response defines us as a leader. The great and influential leaders were no strangers to failure. My research illustrates that most experienced levels of failure and adversity that would compel typical individuals to pack their bags and quit in frustration and disappointment.

The levels of success they achieved did not come easily, but they were persistent. Their personal levels of perseverance and self-reliance are what realistically defined them. Most viewed failure as a learning experience, rather than a defining event. Fred Smith (FedEx) observed, “Just because an idea isn’t implemented or doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that a person has failed.” [1]

James Burke – Johnson & Johnson

Early in his career at Johnson & Johnson, General Robert Wood Johnson taught James Burke a valuable lesson about failure. “Shortly after he arrived at J&J in 1953 as a product director after three years at Procter & Gamble, Burke attempted to market several over-the-counter medicines for children. They all failed-and he was called in for a meeting with the chairman.

‘I assumed I was going to be fired,’ Burke recalls. ‘But instead, Johnson told me, ‘Business is all about making decisions, and you don’t make decisions without making mistakes. Don’t make that mistake again, but please be sure you make others.’”[2]

In 2001, John Chambers (Cisco) saw his company’s revenues and stock price fall off the cliff during the tech and telecom busts. He was challenged with the reality of massive and likely fatal failure. “Within days of realizing Cisco was crashing, Chambers leapt into trying to fix it. ‘He never dwelled on it,’ says Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM (IBM) … ‘John kept the company focused. He said this is where we are, and he drove the company forward.’

He reached out to [Jack] Welch (General Electric) and a handful of other CEOs. They told him that sudden downturns always take companies by surprise, ‘so I should quit beating myself up for being surprised,’ Chambers recalls. He did. Chambers decided that the free fall had been beyond his control. He now wraps it up in an analogy he retells time and again, likening the crash to a disastrous flood: It rarely happens, but when it does, there’s nothing you can do to stop it… Those other CEOs also told Chambers to figure out how bad it was going to get, take all the harsh action necessary to get through it and plan for the eventual upturn.” [3]

David Packard – Hewlett – Packard

David Packard (Hewlett-Packard) faced failure and adversity in a gruff and straightforward manner. “When he returned to HP in the early 1970s after his stint as deputy secretary of defense and found the company on the verge of borrowing $100 million to cover a cash-flow shortage, he immediately met with employees and gave them what came to be known as a ‘Dave Gives ‘Em Hell’ speech. Packard lined up the division managers in front of employees and told them, ‘If they don’t get inventories under control, they’re not going to be your managers for very long.’ Within six months, the company once again had positive cash flow, to the tune of $40 million.” [4]

John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) advised, “‘Look ahead… Be sure that you are not deceiving yourself at any time about actual conditions.’ He notes that when a business begins to fail, most men hate ‘to study the books and face the truth.” [5]

  1. [1] Federal Express’s Fred Smith (Inc. Magazine, October 1, 1986)
    [2] Alumni Achievement Awards: James E. Burke (Harvard Business School, 2003)
    [3] Maney Kevin, Chambers, Cisco Born Again (USA Today, January 21, 2004)
    [4] O’Hanlon Charlene, David Packard: High-Tech Visionary (CRN, November 8, 2000)
    [5] Baida Peter, Rockefeller Remembers (American Heritage Magazine, September/October 1988, Volume 39, Issue 6)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great, What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011) Read a FREE Chapter.

Related:

If You Put Fences Around People, You Get Sheep

Does Compassion and Empathy Have a Role in Leadership?

Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness

Do You Have Faith in Your People?

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Are You Willing to Pay the Price to Succeed?

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All of the great leaders I surveyed experienced what I describe as the Crucible Principle. It states that:

Individuals experience a prolonged, but undetermined period of adversity, disappointment, discouragement and failure early in their careers, which either refines them or breaks their spirits. How they respond to these circumstances will define their character, refine their critical thinking and establish their legitimacy as a leader.

Individuals who do not undergo crucible development early in their careers will not develop the critical thinking skills and character to handle adversities, problems and crisises that will arise in the future. This will result in more difficulties, which will place them at a disadvantage, and undermine their legitimacy as a leader.

Leadership greatness is achieved only after individuals experience an emotional caldron full of adversity, setbacks, failures and obstacles that refine both their character and their vision.

It is a period where courage and fortitude are tested and cultivated. In general, many individuals who experience the Crucible Principle encounter unrelenting waves of pain, disappointment, chaos, confusion and discouragement. They see no end in sight. They simply give up and quit.

“Resilience from the trials of life’s adversity has always been the filter that separates folk heroes from other leaders. Anthropologist Joseph Campbell profiled ancient leaders across cultures and revealed a shared ability to transcend crushing defeat.

This was rooted in a drive for a lasting legacy that can provide for a mythic sense of purpose to ‘triumph the despair and shame of failure. Setbacks actually challenge us to come back with an even greater sense of mission…

Many other great leaders, such as Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, Staples founder Tom Steiuherg and Jet Blue founder David Neelenian, created revolutionary enterprises only after having been fired as victims of power struggles.

Others, such as Autodesk’s Carol Bartz, led strategic transformations while battling life-threatening health crises; and some, such as lifestyle maven Martha Stewart, came back as a hugely successful leader following time served in prison. ” [1]

The existence of this principle and the number of times it surfaced was particularly surprising during the course of my research. The great leaders surveyed experienced difficult levels of adversity, including a sizable number of obstacles they had to overcome.

Success didn’t come easy to them, and it was far from automatic. They were relentless in the levels of persistence they demonstrated, buttressed by the strength of their personal vision. They refused to quit and accept failure. When they encountered failure, they picked themselves up and started over again, and sometimes more than once, until they ultimately succeeded.

The existence of the Crucible Principle was supported by the fact that the average age of the leaders surveyed who started their business or achieved their first major corporate position, was 34 years old.

This means between 13 to 16 years of their lives were spent working their way into a position of responsibility. This data is predicted on the assumption that most started working when they were between 18 to 21 years old.

Some notable examples include: Jack Welch, who started his career at General Electric as a junior engineer, almost left in frustration during his first year, Arthur Vining Davis (Alcoa) was the third employee to be hired at the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (Alcoa) as an assistant; and Arthur Blank (Home Depot), who began his career with the Handy Dan Hardware Company, where he worked for 14 years until he was fired as a regional manager.

An additional significant factor was the duration of the application of the Crucible Principle. My research establishes that it averages 12 years in length. This typically is a period filled with pain, heartache, frustration and failure.

The great leaders’ ability to succeed and prevail ultimately determined their future success. For any individual seeking immediate success, this should be an eye opening fact.

During my own younger years a personal mentor constantly reminded me: “The wheel of success turns very slowly.” Some notable examples of the Crucible Principle include Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines), who waged a four-year legal battle before he flew a single passenger, just to incorporate and start-up his airline. During the early years of its existence, he was forced to sell one of his four airplanes to meet his payroll.

It took Joe Wilson, president of the Haloid Company, twelve years of frustration and continuous investment to commercialize a patent that he had purchased for xerography, to produce the first Xerox machine.

Jeff Bezos observed, “Optimism is essential when trying to do anything difficult because difficult things often take a long time. That optimism can carry you through the various stages as the long term unfolds. And it’s the long term that matters.” [2]

Once the great leaders emerged and achieved levels of prominence, they averaged 25 years in their positions. This does not mean that their lives were easy and carefree. These typically were periods of continuing conflict and adversity, yet they also were the most productive periods of their lives.

Malcolm McLean had founded a successful trucking business. Looking for a way to solve shipping bottlenecks and lower overall costs, he used his resources to develop containerizing cargo.

His innovations ultimately revolutionized the shipping industry through the standardization of an integrated system of containers, ships, railroads and harbor facilities. His ideas virtually impact the entire world due to the expansion of global trading.

Henry Flagler made his fortune as John D. Rockefeller’s partner at Standard Oil. He used his considerable financial resources to create the tourism industry in the State of Florida by building railroads and elegant resorts.

Related:

Does Luck Play a Role in a Leader’s Success?

Do You Have the Fortitude and Resolve to Continue?

Leaders Possess a Deeply Embedded Sense of Purpose

Leaders Possess an Absolute Love for What They Do

References:

  1. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fired With Enthusiasm (Directorship) April 1. 2007
  2. Rob Walker, Jeff Bezos: Amazon.com – America’s 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs (Inc. Magazine) April 1, 2004

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

December 14, 2012 at 11:31 am

Three Reasons Why Leaders Fail

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It is unrealistic to expect that all forms of leadership are successful—because they are not. The nature of leadership is such that leaders are going to take risks and fail. An effective leader learns from failure and moves forward. However, there are failures in leadership not associated with risk taking that can undermine and paralyze an organization.

With any leadership failure, one must strive to distill the reasons and causes behind it. Such failures prevent leaders and their organizations from moving forward because the subsequent barriers and voids stifle a company’s ability to seek new opportunities. Consequently, the company will not be able to take advantage of situations that increase its competitiveness, productivity and market strength.

Everyone in the organization feels the effects of failure. Often these failures can be attributed to leaders who either are improperly trained or misapply leadership principles. In either case, they often fail by backsliding into old habits.

It is important for leaders to understand that their knowledge, expertise and leadership skills will be continually challenged in a volatile and complex work environment. Overwhelmed by time and work requirements, they can easily create a situation that causes leadership failure and leaves a void for their employees.

Leadership failure is generally the result of succumbing to the three shortcomings that are discussed in this section. Highly effective leaders learn to analyze the factors behind these shortcomings that hinder their ability to lead consistently, creatively and responsibly.

Barriers, unforeseen situations and negative influences are guaranteed to surface at one time or another to test one’s ability to lead effectively. These moments of adversity can disclose areas of ineffectiveness or challenge successes that have been achieved. Leaders need to take preventative action to make sure they do not succumb to these shortcomings.

Related: Your Personal Attitudes Shape Your Environment

Self-Imposed Barriers

Many leaders unintentionally create personal barriers that erode their ability to maintain leadership principles, methods and motivation. Leaders who discover themselves doing any of the following should take immediate action to stop.

  • “Backseat leadership” is exhibited through indecisiveness, fence sitting and avoiding responsibility.
  • Professional and personal goals are not formalized or articulated.
  • Leaders lack a positive approach to serious issues, or fail to present suggested solutions for a defined problem.
  • They don’t understand their own strengths and weaknesses, refuse to ask others for their input, and lack a personal improvement plan.
  • Different ethical standards are applied to their personal and professional lives.
  • They don’t share ideas, time, encouragement, respect, compliments and feedback with others.
  • Employees’ weaknesses are focused on and criticized when, instead, the leader should build on and reinforce the individual’s strengths and abilities.
  • They fail to work on personal development, or don’t take it seriously enough to make a difference.

Related: The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

Insufficient Understanding of Leadership

  • Leadership is always responsible. It is not simply a position, job title or a manager overseeing employees. It is both a science and an art that is constantly operating. It requires motivating, monitoring, talking and training through active hands-on involvement. It removes barriers to effectiveness. In sum, leadership is responsible for everything the organization does or fails to do.
  • Leadership means understanding that the factual basis of the organization continues to change. In other words, the thinking that made an organization’s success possible yesterday is the same thinking that can result in its failure tomorrow.
  • Technology will never be able to replace leadership. The question leaders answer is, “What is the organization going to depend on when technology undermines it?” It is dangerous to believe computers and technicians can replace leaders.
  • Leadership is about looking below the surface, since the greatest dangers and the biggest opportunities reside there, hidden unless searched out. Leadership also means seeing employees as an untapped resource that can collectively identify some of the best ideas and solutions to an organization’s problems. Leaders in this role look to workers for ideas, identification of problems and possible solutions.
  • Leadership requires looking beyond the horizon. It means acknowledging that success can blind an organization. Leadership skills encourage leaders to watch for changing trends, needs, potential devastating occurrences, and possible problems that can hinder an organization’s progress.

Related: When the Process of Change Spins Out of Control

Inflexible Goals

Goal setting is a powerful tool—but only a tool; leaders should not make more of it than what it is. Leaders are masters of their goals: their goals serve them. Leaders often fail when goals are not adjusted to reflect their current knowledge about what is best for themselves or the organization.

Setting specific goals builds commitment to achieving results. However, maintaining an inflexible commitment to a goal is dangerous. The time invested or the costs associated with a specific goal can impair the leader’s ability to objectively assess the value of one goal over another.

As goals are pursued, leaders also need to continually seek new opportunities. They can accomplish both simultaneously by doing the following:

  • Think strategically each and every day.
  • Actively seek out daily opportunities.
  • Realize a leader’s job is to identify new opportunities and quickly take advantage of them.
  • Have employees think in terms of, “What if…?” or, “How could…?” or, “Why couldn’t we…?” and other mind-expanding questions.
  • Talk with others outside the organization to discover their views on future directions.
  • Seek information from people that have a different perspective. Leaders often gravitate toward people who are similar to them, who don’t challenge them sufficiently to make a difference.
  • Remember that goal setting does reign supreme when achieving organizational success. However, to prevent leadership failure, never let goals obstruct the identification of new opportunities that may be more valuable.

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on dealing with the challenges of leadership to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Dealing with the Challenges of Leadership: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. Click here to learn more.
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Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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