Sunday, February 8, 2009

If you've never failed as a leader, you'll never be very successful

Came across an excellent section of the the book, "Leadership Passages: The Personal and Professional Transitions That Make or Break a Leader."


If you've never failed as a leader, you'll never be very successful. The best, most accomplished CEOs almost always have at least one significant failure on their resume. The CEOs who fail most spectacularly... are often leaders who have never failed before.

As Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic has said:

"The best developer of a leader is failure."

Some executives are adept at avoiding this passage. They only take jobs for which they're qualified and avoid risks in whatever jobs they hold. They "manage upward" well and are able to advance because of their competence. They can only advance so far, however, because of their lack of resiliency, adaptability, and perseverance -- all traits acquired in this passage -- precludes them for higher-level leadership positions.

Eventually, they find themselves in situations where they make serious errors in judgment because of their failure-free background.

No matter what form failure takes, it humbles and embarrasses us all. Public humiliation, whether it involves being fired, being chastised by a superior, or being grilled by the media, ridiculed by columnists, subjected to comments [online] -- these situations are not fun.

Private humiliation -- feeling as if you've let yourself and others down -- is equally tough to take. The good news is if you're open to understanding why you failed and are able to acquire new knowledge and skills from it, you'll grow as a leader.

Three "dont's" in dealing with failure:

1. Don't let failure define you as a person. Even if you've made a stupid mistake, you aren't stupid. Recognize that anyone who works long enough will experience a significant failure at least once in his career. The worst thing you can do is dwell on the failure. After acknowledging the failure and accepting responsibility, you need to let it go and move on.

2. Don't seek scapegoats. Realistically and naturally, most leaders who fail react defensively. If you respond defensively, you're likely to waste this teachable moment. If you blame your team or anyone else for the setback, you're not likely to examine your role in the failure. Resist this blaming reflex and instead absorb the blame. Blaming others discourages self-examination and the acceptance of responsibility, two critical leadership traits.

3. Don't limit your thinking to the event itself. Yes, it's important to learn from what went wrong and act differently if the same circumstances present themselves in the future. Look for broader patterns or values that you can learn from.