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Three Reasons Why Leaders Fail

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stressedwoman

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.

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.

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.

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.

Related:

Your Personal Attitudes Shape Your Environment

When the Process of Change Spins Out of Control

The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

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.

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 © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

When Building Trust, By All Means Avoid These Six Behaviors

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smallgroup

One of the pillars of leadership is developing and fostering a deep sense of mutual workplace trust. One of the most vexing problems faced in organizations is a simple lack of trust between employees and their managers. For managers to experience successful growth and positive results in their respective department or unit, trust must be established on all levels. Without a deep sense of trust, their vision, goals and plans—as well as unified workplace cohesion—will be unobtainable.

Establishing trust is difficult, time-intensive work. It is earned when synergistic working relationships are established with individual employees. These relationships are characterized by active communication and listening, open and candid interactions, and a total acceptance of all persons as unique individuals. Trust also includes the manager’s personal involvement in ensuring employee as well as departmental success.

The fact that managers are granted authority over employees does not guarantee trust between both parties. Trust is based upon truth, which implies open, honest and direct communication free of personal or hidden agendas. For managers to become totally effective leaders trust must be earned and established. In the absence of trust, leadership principles will be of little consequence in the workplace.

Managers have a unique role within organizational workplaces. While they are responsible for individual employees and are required to guide and direct their activities, many are working on different assignments, projects and tasks in varying phases of completion. Many times it becomes impossible for managers to oversee everyone’s ongoing daily activities. This type of environment demands that high levels of trust are established and sustained.

Lack of trust in the workplace stems from areas managers can fall short in, including:

Establishing a Work Environment Free of Fear

Most managers are generally under extreme pressure to produce ongoing results. Many are focused on agendas that are able to secure or enhance their chances of organizational advancement. In the process, they often create zero-tolerance policies for mistakes and failures. This produces work atmospheres where employees become afraid to discuss problems or results in honest and open dialogue. Rather than trust their managers to support them, they hide pieces of information or mistakes that can hurt or jeopardize them in any way.

Communicating with Employees

Many managers have direct contact with their employees, but often fail to actively listen and engage in conversations that encourage interaction, feedback or input. Some are only interested in picking out certain information that they want to hear without thoroughly listening to anything else being said. Even though they fully believe they are communicating effectively, selective listening and targeted talk work to demoralize their employees and reduce their levels of trust and loyalty.

Interacting in Person

Many managers choose to communicate with their employees via email, written memos or posted messages. Very few efforts are made to interact directly with them on a regular and active basis. This becomes a major pitfall, as only when they make it a point to seek out employees to have open and free discussions and conversations can they become attuned to workplace problems, concerns, and attitudes and know which motivational methods need to be applied to whom.

All employees must be treated fairly, compassionately and honestly and be appreciated for their own particular characteristics and personalities. All have unique needs that must be addressed and met if they are to feel an important part of the organizational team. Since many tend to function with daily frustrations and pressures associated with their assignments and responsibilities, managers as leaders must become actively involved with them daily in order to encourage and sustain the motivation needed to assure they do not succumb to burnout and other psychological problems.

Specific Steps to Building Trust

If leaders wish to establish and build workplace trust, there are specific behaviors that must be avoided.

Criticism

Discussions concerning documented performance results and how to improve them are always necessary and appropriate as one of the manager’s primary responsibilities and functions. However, they must make it a point to avoid making unwarranted negative comments regarding an employee’s performance, attitudes and decisions, as they are directly perceived as personal criticisms, not constructive performance or work-related input.

Psychological Analysis

Managers as leaders must avoid assuming the role of amateur psychiatrist and analyzing employees’ motivations and behaviors. This includes resisting the urge to prejudge their circumstances, situations and actions.

Advice

Managers can easily provide solutions or advice without making the effort to seek employee input. As problems are often more complex than they appear, managers can short-circuit the learning process and alienate employees by not allowing them to identify why things happened, how ineffective solutions were reached, or the particular factors that contributed to inferior results. It is important that managers seek employee input in regard to specific problems in order to understand, analyze and learn from the facts and pertinent information they possess. Only then do they provide their advice, suggestions or solutions.

Command

Some managers tend to coerce, manipulate and force employees into completing assignments on time or accepting increased responsibility. As leaders, they need to avoid these types of actions, and instead motivate and encourage their employees to achieve desired results and/or increase their personal effectiveness and efficiency. They must know their employees well enough to be able to match the appropriate motivational strategy with each individual.

Control

Managers as leaders must avoid controlling actions and behavior through intimidation techniques and practices. Threatening employees with negative consequences does not motivate them. Employees need to be consistently and positively encouraged to produce results. Intimidation only serves to demoralize them.

Intense Questioning

Managers as leaders must avoid second-guessing and questioning employees on every decision, idea, recommendation or suggestion they make. Employees must be trusted to make decisions on their own without intense scrutiny and oversight. A barrage of suggestions or intense questioning as to their employees’ rationale or methods on every assignment only creates more obstacles to them doing their jobs properly, and sends a clear message that their manager thinks them untrustworthy and even incompetent.

Excerpt: Building & Nurturing Trust in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

Eight Ways Others Evaluate Trust in Leaders

Five Strategies to Build Trust

Six Ways to Destroy Trust and Credibility

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 © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Should Accountability Be a Primary Priority?

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womenspeaking

Today it seems that much of what we hear focuses on a lack of accountability. It resonates inside business practices as well as being far reaching in the character of influential people within our political environment, cultural role models and those responsible for influencing and teaching our children. Accountability is an important topic to consider, especially in business today. After all, a lack of accountability in the workplace does produce both intended and unintended consequences that can affect so many people in a brief amount time.

The choices we make and the paths we choose to take all come with associated levels of accountability and accompanied consequences. Many in the business setting tend to have extremely higher stakes and risks. The question is; “Should accountability be a number one priority in today’s business climate?”

Basic Definition of Accountability

The basic definition of accountability can be simply defined. It is being answerable to others.  In the work environment as managers and leaders, it is important for several reasons. Accountability is the means for applying checks and balances. These protect companies from internal and external vulnerabilities and competitive disadvantages. It enhances fairness for employees and limits disruptions and frustrations that slow their efforts and personal growth. Through accountability, everyone can be given the opportunity to share their ideas, motivate and encourage those around them. Perhaps it is time to look at accountability as a “positive business relationship factor” rather than a “judgment that defines individual progress and potential”.

Personal Accountability

Accountability inside the workplace needs to be considered as a positive principle to embrace. It motivates each of us to do our best. It presses us to be better managers of the time, talents, responsibilities and resources that have been awarded us to oversee. If it were not for being answerable to someone else, it would likely become a much more difficult task to foster personal growth and to become better at what we do along the way. Nothing hampers individual promotions and work relationships more than a lack of personal accountability, or the desire for it. If you look around and give it careful consideration, you will probably notice that most divisions and derisions within departments or work units can be directly traced back to issues of little to no accountability in regard to one or more people.

Why Many Will Openly or Silently Resist Accountability?

Being in a leadership position requires the knowledge of understanding why many employees and even peers will openly or silently resist accountability. It may be wise to formally address them as part of your company expectations or workplace standards reinforcement activities.

Some Employees Have an Aversion to Accountability 

They are inwardly or even at times outwardly rebellious to authority. They sometimes feel they know better than someone else, and will refuse to adhere to any rules or suggestions that they have had no input or say into their development or implementation.

Some Employees May Be Simply Lazy and Non-Performance Driven

Accountability interferes with the ability to continue in their comfort zones fordoing what they feel they want to do, when they desire to do it.

Some Employees May Fear the Loss of Their Jobs or Positions

Accountability implies a disclosure of their negative performance in areas where they may be compared to others, where positive outcomes will become undermined or overlooked.

Some Employees May Not Trust Their Mangers or Supervisors

They refuse to believe the accountability criteria they set will be fair, or feel it will be used appropriately.

Pride or Ego Highly Contributes to the Erosion and Resistance to Accountability

Some individuals believe that the means of their own personal feelings and belief system will forever tend to justify the ends and outcomes they wish to produce. Actions of accountability and support of everyone’s interests are not a necessary part of the process for getting something accomplished. These individuals usually feel they are above the need to display qualities of corporate responsibility, while being held to the same standards as everyone else.

Accountability Stimulates Individuals Do Their Very Best

These are sobering days for any business and especially those that function within them. Character, high standards for staying on course, upholding personal convictions, promoting truthful words and unwavering actions while displaying high levels of responsibility, are all an integral part of accountability.

While it is true that everyone is probably forced to do more with less, accountability needs to become a two way street. A buy-in to accountability can make a huge difference. Work relationships generally become stronger.  Responsibility becomes part of the company culture. Paths to individual success, progress and promotion are opened up. Corporate stability is sustained, which in turn allows for greater future growth and individual prosperity. Trust within the workplace is greatly enhanced. Loyalty increases.

For multiple reasons, accountability stimulates individuals do their best, versus doing only what is needed to get by. In the end accountability will ensure that all workers will begin to hold each other to set standards, and because of it, increase pride and more positive workplace attitudes. Individuals taking advantage of circumstances and situations tend to become far fewer. Challenges can be addressed and solved without the accompaniment of intimidation and fear. By placing accountability as a number one priority, there will be far fewer challenges to overcome but more privileges, promotions and positive rewards to offer.

Related:

Supporting Employees’ Need to Achieve Maximum Results

Assessing Employee Growth and Development

Nine Rules for Coaching Your Employees

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 © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

“Dissent, Even Conflict, is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

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Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald's

Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald’s

In addition to allowing themselves to have their own thinking challenged, the great leaders also challenged the thinking of others, to help them to consider all possibilities and options. Consider the example of Ray Kroc (McDonald’s). “Suppose someone comes up with a proposal that McDonald’s should serve turkey sandwiches… Everyone on the board of directors can think of nine good reasons why turkey sandwiches would be a bad thing for us. They would blow the idea out of the water immediately. But Ray would say, ‘Wait a minute; let’s examine what this might do for us. Maybe we could make it work. If not turkey sandwiches, maybe we should try turkey hash.’ He wouldn’t let go of it until all possibilities had been considered.” 1

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) illustrated this point of challenging the thought process, when he remarked, “One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints is well as for their own. Open discussions and disagreements must be encouraged, so that all sides of an issue will be fully explored. Further, important issues should be presented in writing. Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one’s arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.” 2

Peter Drucker commented, “Dissent, even conflict, is necessary, indeed desirable. Without dissent and conflict there is no understanding. And without understanding, there are only wrong decisions. To me the most fascinating parts of [Alfred] Sloan’s [General Motors] book [My Years With General Motors] are the memoranda in which he first elicits dissent and then synthesizes dissenting views into an understanding, and in the end, into consensus and commitment. Sloan implies that leadership is not charisma, not public relations, not showmanship. It is performance, consistent behavior, trustworthiness.” 3

James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) was “never one to fill his staff with employees who were afraid to state their minds, Burke enjoyed having different viewpoints on board. ‘My style is to encourage controversy and encourage people to say what they think,’ he told Fortune (October 24, 1988). He always wanted his employees to fight for what they believed in, without fear of repercussions.” 4

Henry Luce (Time Magazine) was known to challenge other’s thinking. It was reported, “‘Far from being pained by new ideas,’ Mr. [Hedley] Donovan [Editor in Chief – Time Magazine] said, ‘Harry Luce rejoices in them. He welcomes argument so ardently that it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to agree with him when he is right, as is bound to happen from time to time.’ This was also the impression of Gilbert Cant, a Time editor for many years, who said: ‘His decisions may have been unidirectional but, by God, he thought a hell of a lot. Conversation with him was utterly maddening because he was always aware of the other side of any proposition he was stating, and he frequently tried to express both sides at once.’” 5

  1. How He Made McDonald’s Sizzle (Success Magazine, March 1, 2009)
  2. Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)
  3. Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)
  4. Watson Stephanie, Business Biographies: James Burke (http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/biography/A-E/Burke-James-1925.html)
  5. Whitman Alden, Henry R. Luce, Creator of Time-Life Magazine Empire, Dies in Phoenix at 68 (The New York Times, March 1, 1967)

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 © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

“Leaders Should Set a Clear and Decisive Tone at the Top”

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Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

The wealth, power and influence of the great leaders is widely known. How they achieved it is another issue unto itself. They were people of achievement, capability and resilience. They had their personal convictions continually tested as they faced countless and enormous difficulties and challenges. Yet, it was their character, ethics, morals and values that utterly defined them as great leaders. In the quest for wealth, fame and power, many individuals will tend to sacrifice these qualities on the altar of achievement.

Admiral Hyman Rickover in a 1977 speech stated, “There is abundant evidence around us to conclude that morals and ethics are becoming less prevalent in people’s lives. The standards of conduct, which lay deeply buried in accepted though for centuries no long are absolute. Many people seem unable to differentiate between physical relief and moral satisfaction; they confuse material success in life with virtue.” What distinguished the great leaders from typical ones was their refusal to sell themselves out, or to compromise their integrity for the sake of money, power or prestige.

Rickover was prophetic. Since his remarks, this country has seen corporate scandal after scandal occur, including a stable of well-known companies, such as Drexel Burnham, Enron, Arthur Anderson, WorldCom, Tyco International, Countrywide, AIG, and Lehman Brothers, just to list a few. The actions of a handful of wealthy and influential leaders  threw the country into a financial panic, as well as a lengthy and deep recession. It resulted in costing millions of individuals and families their homes, savings and retirements. It destroyed trust and credibility within our society. This was further exasperated when many of the companies and leaders who were directly responsible for such pain and misery became isolated from the consequences of their actions and behaviors through government bailouts, generous “golden parachutes,” and performance bonuses.

Sharon Allen, Chairman of Deloitte LLP wrote in the introduction to The Deloitte LLP 2010 Ethics & Workplace Survey, “Regardless of the economic environment, business leaders should be mindful of the significant impact that trust in the workplace… By establishing a values-based culture, organizations can cultivate the trust necessary to reduce turnover and mitigate unethical behavior…. Ultimately, an organization’s most senior leaders should set a clear and decisive tone at the top.”

“Ethics and moral judgment are not new concepts for leadership. They have been identified as critical characteristics of leadership over the last century. An organization’s leaders help define the culture, values, standards, and moral character of the organization having ramifications both inside and external to the organization. Ethical leaders have been found to display pride yet reject selfish and conceited behavior… Ethical leaders are not normally high-profile charismatic leaders but are quiet leaders moving ‘patiently, carefully, and incrementally…’”

The great leaders are defined by who they are as individuals. They have all been shaped by their character, morals, values, integrity and ethics. These are the values that define them as being truly great and valuable, whether or not they actually achieved publically recognized pinnacles of success.

  1. Admiral Rickover H.C., Thoughts on Man’s Purpose in Life (speech presented at the San Diego Rotary Club, 1977)
  2. The Deloitte LLP 2010 Ethics & Workplace Survey (Deloitte LLP, August, 2010)
  3. Scharff M.M., WorldCom: A Failure of Moral and Ethical Values (Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, July 2005)

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 © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Q & A: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

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Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. - Author - Great! What Makes Leaders Great

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. – Author – Great! What Makes Leaders Great

An Interview With the Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D., Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great

The editors of Majorium Business Press recently had the opportunity to interview Timothy Bednarz about his book: 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 2012) to discuss his thoughts on the crisis of leadership being witnessed in America today.

Q: The research presented in Great! focuses upon 160 influential leaders, spanning 235 years. I would like to start our discussion by asking, do you believe leadership has changed over time?

Bednarz: The concept of what constitutes great leadership hasn’t changed over time. When I first started my research, I thought that genuinely great leadership was a thing of the past, but I was surprised to discover there are individuals today who can classified as great leaders.

There is no doubt that individuals are shaped by the times they lived in. However the great leaders rose to the pinnacles of success, while many of their contemporaries failed. What made the difference was the fact they developed the characteristics and leadership dimensions that allowed them to succeed.

Q: So you’re saying leadership hasn’t changed?

Bednarz: No, that’s not quite true. What has undoubtedly changed is the focus on short-term profitability and shareholder value, which often sacrifices a company’s long-term viability. This trend emerged in the mid 1980s after the success of Jack Welch at GE. Many CEOs jumped on the bandwagon and this trend changed the face of corporate leadership ever since. Consequently, this has severely eroded trust and credibility after years of scandals and downsizing that has affected literally millions of people.

Q: What impact has these two factors had on today’s leaders?

Bednarz: The Edelman Trust Barometer, which has evaluated global trust levels for the past 12 years, reported that the current levels of credibility of today’s CEOs has dropped to an all time low of 38%. This reflects a decrease of over 12% in the past twelve months.

Q: What are the implications of this drop in CEO’s credibility?

Bednarz: What is interesting about Edelman’s survey is that it emphasizes that without trust and credibility, a leaders lose their legitimacy to lead. Just because individuals are either appointed or elected to high positions of authority, doesn’t mean they have earned it. They may have the power and authority that comes with their position, but the legitimacy to lead must be granted by others, such as employees, voters, suppliers, communities, investors, and a host of potential constituencies, which leaders serve.

Q: How does this influence the concept of leadership?

Bednarz: Referring back to the idea of the earned right to lead, and from the decrease in credibility, many so-called leaders today have lost their focus on what is true leadership. To go back to your original question; has leadership changed? I firmly believe, great leadership is defined by the ability of an individual to earn the trust, respect and credibility of those that the leader serves. He or she has earned the legitimacy to lead. Every great leader I researched, over 235 years possessed trust, credibility and legitimacy, and 58% of the leaders I survey can be included in this category. All too many today solely focus on the financial performance of their companies and then wonder why they have lost their credibility.

Q: Is focusing on profits and financial performance wrong? After all this seems to be a theme in the current presidential campaign.

Bednarz: There is nothing wrong with being highly concerned about profits, and focusing on financial performance, but it needs to be balanced with the needs of all of one’s key constituencies. Great leaders today have proven this to be possible, without sacrificing financial performance. Jack Welch, whose example many corporate leaders follow, stated after he left GE that it is foolish to only focus on financial performance. It I only one factor to consider.

Q: Can you cite some examples of leaders today who have earned their legitimacy?

Bednarz: Certainly. Fred Smith of FedEx, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Jeff Bezos of Amazon all come to mind, and there are certainly others.

Q: Based upon your responses and research, how would you define leadership?

Bednarz: That is an interesting question and one that I was seeking to answer, when I first started my research. There is a host of leadership books on the market, with many more written each year, yet, many are very similar, parroting the same information without providing the reader with any new insights or perspectives on the topic of leadership. I believe that to understand the topic of leadership, you need to first understand the leaders who have historically defined it and provided us with effective role models.

After years of study, I have concluded and condensed it into a brief statement; leadership is ultimately an act of faith in other people.

Q: That’s an interesting concept. Isn’t it the role of a leader to lead?

Bednarz: The operative word in your question is “lead.” The role of a leader is to inspire, motivate, influence and guide others. Think about it. In order to inspire, motivate, influence and guide other individuals, one must establish mutual bonds of loyalty, trust, respect and credibility.

Q: Can loyalty, trust, respect and credibility be measured?

Bednarz: You must understand that everything a leader does or says is judged by others and contributes to their credibility and legitimacy or ultimately undermines it. We have an environment that relies on relative rather than absolute truths. Consequently, we often observe so-called leaders making incredulous statements, devoid of any sense of intellectual honesty, and credibility, treating their audience like a bunch of fools, incapable of seeing the truth.

People view many in corporate and governmental positions of power as self-serving, without regard for others and the consequences of their actions. It is little wonder why we have a crisis of leadership. It’s everyone for themselves without regard for those they are appointed to serve. Subsequently, we see a crisis in confidence in these individuals, as noted by Eldeman’s survey.

Q: How would the great leaders that you surveyed respond to this crisis of confidence?

Bednarz: The great leaders I researched developed strong emotional bonds of loyalty, trust, respect and credibility with their employees, investors, suppliers, communities and a host of other constituencies. They were able to balance the needs of each of these groups, without sacrificing the needs of others. They had faith in the people they served, and this is reflected in the wiliness of these constituencies to eagerly believe in them and to loyally follow where they led them.

Q: Beyond the obvious benefits of loyalty, how did the great leaders you researched profit from it?

Bednarz: The emotional bonds forged by the great leaders paid dividends over time. For instance, when George Westinghouse faced financial difficulties during the Financial Panic of 1907, his employees sacrificed for him. They made personal contributions for him to save Westinghouse Electric. In another instance, Fred Smith saw his employees volunteer their time to help handle an onslaught of packages received by FedEx during the UPS strike in 1997. Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines has driven these attitudes deep into the company’s culture.

Q: In the introduction to your book you stated, “We stand at a critical moment in history for great leadership. The door of opportunity is wide open for us to those who desire to rise above the fray. History shows that many individuals have assumed the mantle of leadership, often not without experiencing painful failures and stifling adversities. Their actions and examples provide clear pathways to follow. This book is designed to show you the way.” Why do you think today’s leaders should look to examples of great leadership in the past?

Bednarz: America, if not the world is crying out today for ethical and strong leadership, especially since the world appears to be spinning into chaos. History has repeatedly demonstrated that great leaders emerge from difficult times. Many of the leaders focused upon in my book Great! have emerged from similar circumstances, If leaders today follow their examples and diligently study how they did it, there are many lessons that can be transferred into action that are able to transform individuals into great leaders.

Q: If you could condense the message of your book into one or two short sentences for this audience, what would you they be?

Bednarz: Two words: Leadership matters. This is true, whether as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or as the president of the local PTA. Great leaders can emerge at any level of an organization, at any time, and in every field. Each has the ability to make a difference in the lives of the people they lead and serve.

Q: Thank you for your time today.

Bednarz: My pleasure.

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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 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
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Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos  Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Effective leaders adhered to an unalterable expectation that mistakes and failure need to be an acceptable part of the process of innovation. They opposed “zero tolerance for mistakes” policies, many of which are still being practiced in many companies today. They considered these to be hindrances to innovation.

“It’s easy to believe that Jeff Bezos is one of the great innovators. But that’s not exactly the case. His rise into Fortune 500-dom actually has little to do with innovation and more to do with iteration. If anything, Amazon demonstrates how a cutting-edge Internet company – of all things – can succeed slowly. The trick is taking a million tiny steps – and quickly learning from your missteps.” [1]

The mega-inventors of the 19th Century are also prime examples of this philosophy. “[George] Westinghouse (Westinghouse) built on his engineering skills, learning how to design and evaluate industrial trials. Time after time he turned trial failures into commercial successes. Even his competitors hailed his problem solving skills…” [2] “[Thomas] Edison (Edison Electric) viewed even disasters as an opportunity for learning. On one occasion his lab stove went out in the dead of winter, causing an assortment of expensive chemicals to freeze. On another occasion unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of bemoaning the losses, Edison put aside all other projects to catalogue changes in the properties of the bottled substances… ‘He knew how to turn lemons into lemonade.’[3]

Walt Disney (Disney) took a proactive approach toward mistakes. “Walt found a way to push improvement without laying blame. [He] take(s) a look at what [someone says]… not glossing over a problem with the gag. He implicitly acknowledges it could be better. But rather than indulge an employee’s criticism of another worker, he demands a positive, forward-thinking attitude – ‘what we can do to make it better…’ Walt kept employees engaged and contributing by not shooting down suggestions, but instead steering employees toward improving their ideas… Walt’s approach to suggestions as the difference between responding ‘Yes, if…’ or ‘No, because…’ [4]

As Sam Walton grew Wal-Mart into a retailing giant, he realized that “not all of his ideas worked. The minnow buckets didn’t sell. People in Wisconsin didn’t go for his Moon Pies. But when he saw he was wrong, he admitted his mistake and went on to try something else. And he wanted his associates to be the same way. He’d get them together on Saturday mornings to share their success and admit their failures. That culture of candor produced a great environment to capture ideas. It helped that he had ‘very little capacity for embarrassment.’[5]


[1]  Quittner Josh, The Charming Life of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Fortune Magazine, April 15, 2008)

[2]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 61

[3]  McAuliffe Kathleen, The Undiscovered World of Thomas Edison (Atlantic Magazine, December 1995)

[4]  Niles Robert, Disney Legends Recall Walt Disney and the ‘Yes, It…. Way of Management (Theme Park Insider, November 19, 2009)

[5]  Walton Sam Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)

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 2012)

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 © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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