Insights for Leaders

Embracing Failure

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

Sara Blakely, the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire and founder of Spanx, a multi-million dollar undergarment company, admitted: “My dad encouraged us to fail.  Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week.  If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed.  It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying.”

Basketball legend, Michael Jordan, observed: “I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot…and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders embrace failure, realizing it can be the doorway to a new start, growth and ultimately success.

Failure to Change

“When you’re finished changing; you’re finished.” — Benjamin Franklin

Andrew Grove, former Intel Chairman and CEO and 1997 Time ”Man of the Year”, observed: “There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next performance level.  Miss the moment, and you start to decline.”

UCLA’s legendary basketball Coach John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA national championships in a 12-year period (and 7 in a row) believed, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders by definition are change agents — if they fail to change they fail to lead. 

From Dreaming to Doing

“I’m tired of dreaming.  I’m into doing at the moment.  It’s, like, let’s only have goals that we can go after.” — Bono

As we set our sights on a new year, it’s worth revisiting the adage, “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.”  Peter Drucker observed, “Management by objective works — if you know the objectives.  Ninety percent of the time, you don’t.”

Research concludes: goals are highly motivational and encourage persistence.  The reason most people don’t reach their goals is they don’t define believable, achievable goals and commit to them in writingGoals that lack commitment are better classified as wishes and dreams.

The Bottom Line: Leaders convert their dreams into reality through disciplined goal setting that provides motivation and encourages persistence.

Accountability 101

“Great companies have high cultures of accountability.” – Steve Ballmer

Best-selling author/consultant Patrick Lencioni writes, “In the context of teamwork, accountability refers specifically to the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.  The essence of this dysfunction is the unwillingness of team members to tolerate the interpersonal discomfort that accompanies calling a peer on his or her behavior and the more general tendency to avoid difficult conversations.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders model the hard work of holding people accountable, accepting the interpersonal discomfort and difficult conversations that come with the territory.

Outgrowing Individual Performance

“Michael, if you can’t pass you can’t play.” – Coach Dean Smith to Michael Jordan in his freshmen year at UNC

Jim Collins observes, “The best leaders we’ve studied had a peculiar genius for seeing themselves as not all that important, recognizing the need to build an executive team and to craft a culture based on core values that do not depend on a single heroic leader.”

Head Coach Joe Paterno believes, “When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders recognize their individual limitations and their need to be an effective member of a team to accomplish truly great results.

Sweat the Small Stuff

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” — Vincent Van Gogh

An ancient proverb instructs, “He who is faithful in the little things, to him will be given more.” Or, as Albert Einstein paraphrased, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important matters.”

John Wooden, college basketball’s legendary head coach with the most winning record in all sports history advises: “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens it lasts.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders understand the importance of “little things” and seek small, incremental gains that add up to lasting greatness.

Knowing What Counts

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein

Peter Drucker observes, “Few executives yet know how to ask: what information do I need to do my job? When do I need it? In what form? And from whom should I be getting it?”

Billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates writes: “For me, goals and daily metrics are the key to keeping me focused. If I don’t have access to the right stats, every day, it is so easy for me to move on mentally to the next thing. But if I have quick access to key metrics every day, my creativity stays within certain boundsmy ideas all center on how to achieve our goals.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders identify and track success measures and consistently focus on achieving specific goals.

Managing Expectations

“Never try to impress a woman, because if you do she’ll expect you to keep up the standard for the rest of your life.” — W.C. Fields

Mr. Fields may have overstated his point; but, he hits on a big idea that Ken Blanchard unpacks in Raving Fans: “Exceeding expectations is important but it’s even more important to consistently meet expectations. Meet first. Exceed second. It should be tattooed on the inside eyelids of every manager. The worst thing you can do is meet expectations one time, fall short another, and exceed now and then.”

Mr. Blanchard explains the way to ensure consistency is to have systems and a training program to inculcate these systems into the organization.

The Bottom Line: Leaders strive for consistency in meeting customer expectations and achieve this with well conceived systems and training.

Maximizing Potential

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” — J.C. Penney

Greek philosopher Plato underscored the importance of goal setting when he said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work.”

Master sales trainer Zig Ziglar believes, “Unless you have definite, precise, clearly set goals, you are not going to realize the maximum potential that lies within you.” He adds, “When you set goals, something inside of you starts saying, “Let’s go, let’s go,” and ceilings start to move up.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders use the discipline of effective goal setting to get focused, motivate themselves and maximize their potential.

The Key to Success

“Victory belongs to the most persevering.” — Napolean Bonaparte

American industrialist John D. Rockefeller Sr., often regarded as the richest person in history observed, “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”

Walt Disney writes, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me….You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders understand the value of adversity and see it as an opportunity to persevere, learn and grow in character.