Admitting Failure (And The Lessons It Provides) A Key Test Of Leadership Capacity

Beware the executive who can't describe their biggest business failures and who doesn't harbour some emotion about them, whether in the form of profound disappointment, frustration, regret or gratitude, perhaps.

While it may seem counterintuitive or selfishly counterproductive to any executive being interviewed for what could become their next management career opportunity, the collective insights of executive talent masters suggest getting the candidate to open up about their business missteps and what they learned from them - assuming they did - is a critical prerequisite for determining whether the individual is poised for success in a new leadership role.

Experience, is, after all, a great teacher. Imminent business decisions may summon the wisdom of smart manoeuvres that led to past glories, but they must also surface the lessons of poor judgments and outright flubs so they aren't repeated.

Executives unwilling or unable to detail at least one bad business decision during a recruitment interview actually relate volumes about their ego and lack of self-awareness, as do those who find themselves likewise challenged by an inability to spread the praise for excellent outcomes widely.

Of course, the real challenge of failure as set against today's contemporary business pressures is not only to learn from it but also to avoid the loss of energy and confident contemplation that can impinge on sensible decision-making.

In some sense, the lessons of failure are most instructive if leaders retain them in their collective memories, but also forget them just long enough so they don't become obstacles to personal and organisational growth.

Leaders Must Lead!

There is no substitute for inspirational leadership, someone who:

  • Takes people where they otherwise would not go;
  • Employs the head, empowers the hand, engages the heart and enriches the spirit;
  • Builds a great team;
  • Creates tomorrow in the room today;
  • Is skilled in orchestrating "change".

To those core attributes add resilience, digital savvy, coaching mastery and all that is implied by the word 'focus'.

Here the waters are somewhat muddied by a past body of work defined as "change management". Its origins lie in a time before digitalisation, before ongoing disruption, before today's blazing speed of change and before the need to continuously reinvent possibility. Still an overriding theme in many organisations and, no doubt, invaluable in the past, it is a body of work that needs to be revisited.

Push technology aside today at your peril. That is not to suggest - as many appear to do - that digitalisation/technology/AI, etc., are, on their own, a source of lasting competitive advantage. Culture is a dynamic system and technology an integral part of that system. Culture is the stage - technology one of the lead players. And sitting in the audience? The ever-vigilant customer.

The resilient nature of culture is that it is essentially a series of deeply enshrined habits. And changing a habit doesn't happen overnight. Culture will thus, especially in the short term, always have primacy. For that reason, launching new technology into a culture that doesn't fully support it is a pretty good way to destroy value. For example, although AI has the potential to move the business to a whole new level, implementation is lagging expectations.

In introducing breakthrough technology, organisations need to similarly start with a rich and compelling 'why'. For an intervention that will, literally and irrevocably, change their lives - higher productivity, faster response times and/or a greater understanding of who buys the company's product and/or service are, on their own, a tough sell to the typical employee. Motivation without meaning is change without commitment.

And what does a great 'why' sound like? A group of young executives in a bionics company were asked why they do what they do. They answered, "To make the wheelchair redundant". Where do I sign up?

None of this takes anything away from the value of a holistic template (model) - one that captures how all of the various elements of change come together. Indeed, the further you venture into the upper levels of management, the greater the degree to which learning how to learn comes to the fore. Provide that map but recognise that leaders must lead. Acknowledge that leaders, real leaders, do lead!

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".

Mindset Assessment - Will You Come Out Of This Crisis Stronger?

Coronavirus has moved us beyond everything we thought we knew. Moving forward implies a number of challenges:

  1. Rescuing the business.
  2. Recognising and celebrating that there is a new definition of what it means to be "a team".
  3. Developing one, three- and six-month strategic scenarios.
  4. Partnering with customers to develop the best way forward.
  5. Regularly revisiting the question, "How will we come out of this stronger?"

Moving beyond today's crisis - as indeed we will - isn't simply about having a better plan. To come out of this stronger we need to think differently about the business that will emerge. Our mindset will determine not only what is possible but, more importantly, what becomes possible!

Download "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" and work through the simple "Mindset Assessment" to answer:

  1. What state of mind shaped how you and your team made decisions in the past?
  2. To come out of this crisis stronger, what collective mindset is demanded?

Tomorrow Will Be Different - Will You?

Tomorrow's Leaders Are Comfortable With Ambiguity

There are points in time when the more we know, the more we realise how little we know. We are in such a time. The future role of robotics/cobotics, the nature and design of tomorrow's corporation, the potential impact of medical breakthroughs and how tomorrow's technology, generally, is going to shape the endeavour – arguably, the most innovative creation our species has ever achieved – that we call "the organisation" remain, at best, "uncertain". If you think you "know", take an aspirin, lie down and hopefully the feeling will pass.

"Anticipation" is to identify that which can be expected. We don't really know what tomorrow holds other than … to expect the unexpected. Furthermore, the scope and nature of change that lies ahead isn't like passing through bad weather. It's akin to being engulfed by a hurricane that is merely a harbinger of the even bigger storm front that lies ahead.

"Comfort with ambiguity" is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's the art of not knowing but, when necessary, making the right decision anyway. It's far less about being right than it is doing the right things. It's about interpreting the organisation's values as a springboard for action and providing the freedom to move beyond what has been – not as a restrictive set of rules.

There is a well-established relationship between entrepreneurship and comfort with ambiguity. It's called risk. Recognising a great idea, relentless focus, a results-driven mentality and real-time awareness are the mark of the entrepreneur. As is avoiding, what Jeff Bezos calls, "day 2 stasis." Day 1 leaders keep the customer at the centre of everything they do, are quick to embrace meaningful trends, are paranoid about the bottom line and fail fast and move on. Most leaders see rejection as a setback. Entrepreneurs view it as just one more step on the road to success. Above all, successful entrepreneurs know how and when to say no. Corporate executives manage risk … entrepreneurs live it every day.

There is also an important team dimension to comfort with ambiguity. As a long-suffering child of the perceived need for rigid hierarchy, it has long been assumed that the team worked for the team leader. "Fast", "flat", "flexible", "focused" and "fertile" changes all that. Moving forward, the leader will work for the team. This implies a far subtler relationship; a bond where formal authority gives way to trust, mutual respect and the quest for authenticity. Instruction and "telling" were relatively straightforward. Followership rooted in influence moves the leader into far murkier waters. Not that there is much of a choice when technical know-how and customer insight are shared across the team. If you can't coach, you can't lead!

And the difference that makes a difference: Recognise that only those who can see what others cannot see … can do what others say cannot be done. Differentiate between those who deliver based on what is asked of them and those who show true initiative. Support the former … invest in the latter.

Insights from "Tomorrow's Leadership Will Be Different".

Three Essential TRANSEARCH Orxestra® Webinars You Can Watch Right Now
drive.google.com (PDF)

TRANSEARCH International recently invited organisational change and culture guru Dr John O. Burdett to present a series of global webinars on the following themes:

  1. The Culture Conversation
  2. Coming Down the Mountain - It's all mindset
  3. Organization Design

For those who have already watched the webinars or participated in the live sessions, thank you for your ongoing interest in our TRANSEARCH Orxestra® series. If you haven't been able to join us or missed one of the sessions, you can read more about the webinars using the links above and watch the videos at your leisure.

Insights from "Three essential TRANSEARCH Orxestra® webinars you can watch right now" by Vladimír Polomský, Sr. Consultant, TRANSEARCH International Czech Republic & Slovakia.

Read "Three Essential TRANSEARCH Orxestra® Webinars You Can Watch Right Now" leadership insights

The Power of a Clear Leadership Narrative
sloanreview.mit.edu

Few would argue that key leadership traits such as authenticity, trust, and inspiration are necessary. But, without the context needed to create meaning or catalyse change, they run the risk of being considered buzzwords. Stories help prevent that from happening, and that's where the power of creating your leadership narrative comes into play.

Read "The Power of a Clear Leadership Narrative" leadership insights