Buying a lottery ticket has an extremely low chance of paying off. Yet many people, at least in countries where it's legal, do it anyway. In the United States alone, it's estimated that almost half the population plays the lottery; and last year Americans spent an estimated $1.46 billionbuying tickets for the Mega-Millions game, even when the odds of winning were 176 million to one.
Why do so many people play such long odds? The answer is: It gives them an opportunity to dream. People are willing to invest in dreams, even when they know the odds are against them. But what if the odds were much better than one in 176 million? Would you double your investment? Would you put in time and effort in addition to the cost of a lottery ticket?
I ask these questions because, like the lottery, organizations can shape their employees' dreams; and when the dreams are exciting and the odds are believable, employees will dramatically increase their investments in making them come true. Conversely, when the dreams are mundane and lack credibility, employees disconnect and pull back on their investment.
Some dreams, of course, are about money. In many professions, people are willing to work eighty-hour weeks and travel non-stop at least partially because they expect to receive large bonuses or payoffs. But for others, chasing this kind of financial dream alone is not enough. There also needs to be some deeper and more personal aspiration.
Not long ago I listened to a senior executive in a pharmaceutical company talk to a team of managers about the limited availability of a particular medicine. Most people in the room knew that a number of inter-connected problems were causing the firm to miss its targets, such as inaccurate forecasting, inadequate IT systems, materials shortages, and However, what they didn't fully appreciate was the human cost.
In just a few short sentences, this executive reminded everyone that the purpose of this medicine was to reduce the mortality rate of a specific disease; and that four million people would die unnecessarily in the next few years unless they received the company's product. Suddenly every person in the room was willing to put aside other priorities and work to solve this problem.
The executive had tapped into their dream to create a healthier world.While not every company delivers services that save lives so directly, all organizations create value for their customers, stakeholders, and society. Part of a leader's job is to help employees connect to and relate to that value so that the company's mission becomes part of their own dream.
Without that connection, employees will at best go through the motions — and at worst become demoralized and detached.As the lottery demonstrates, most people are willing to place long-shot bets in the service of a personal dream. Great leaders help their people understand how those personal dreams can be aligned with the organization's goals, and why upping their investments will improve the odds of success.How have you seen leaders tap into their people's dreams?
It’s a debate as timeless as the age-old controversy about the chicken and the egg. Do effective leaders learn to become superior communicators and relationship builders? Or do people with exemplary communication and teamwork abilities naturally have an aptitude for leadership?
Recently, the Wall Street Journal’s online edition, citing the need for – and lack of – these leadership qualities in business, asked its readers if business schools should “put more focus on communications and interpersonal training within their programs, or should the programs require a greater degree of proficiency in these skills in the students they admit?” Inevitably, the discussion revolved around the question of whether communication and relationship skills are inherent or learned.
One reader contended that a person not already inclined to communicate openly could never really acquire the skill. Another claimed that by focusing on team projects and class discussions, business schools clearly provide this valuable training. But most agreed that business schools should both look for students with superior communications and relationship abilities and then show them how to refine their abilities. At Ivey, that is certainly the case, as it should be.
As Ivey Professor Gerard H. Seijts illustrates in his compelling article about the behaviours of effective leaders, communications and interpersonal skills are absolutely critical, especially when a crisis erupts or when leaders “have to navigate the rough seas of organizational change.” And since “most businesses operate in a complex and uncertain environment”, the best business leaders possess foresight, decisiveness and the confidence to take risks – behavioural traits gained by communicating and working with others.
He further observes that when problems occur, leaders need the “visibility” that arises from remaining in touch with your people at all times. Equally vital is a leader’s eagerness to communicate widely because there is “no such thing as over-communications during a crisis”. He also underscores the critical leadership ability of being able to “connect with people” – to engage them, secure their commitment and gain their trust.
Most important, he shows how these mindsets not only help during a crisis, they inevitably help to avoid crises. Effective communication and interpersonal skills provide leaders with an acute understanding of what could happen, how to minimize surprises, and how to keep your people on side – no matter what occurs.
Can people learn to communicate and relate well with others? As I have seen, absolutely. Do leaders need to listen, speak and interact with people effectively? Absolutely. Are leaders born or are they made? I believe that the best leaders learn to lead. They come to appreciate the value of candour and trust. They seek to understand and be understood. And they know that communicating and relating well with people are the only ways to achieve the calibre of leadership that endures.
Who says introverts are shrinking violets who lack social skills?
These seven leaders in politics, business, and tech are among some of the most influential people of our time, proving that you don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to be heard.
Being commander-in-chief seems like an introvert’s worst nightmare. But even though President Obama has caught criticism for his aloof personality, he’s leveraged introvert’s natural capacity for thoughtful communication. Even though it’s a different style than many on Capitol Hill, introspection and introversion has its advantages that extroversion can’t compete with. As columnist David Brooks puts it, “Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.”
“I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert,” said political journalist John Heilemann. “I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities.”
The Yahoo CEO has seen a lot of media attention lately, but she insists that the spotlight is not her style. “Mayer often ‘talks about how she is naturally shy and introverted,’ and yet modern media ignores it and paints her as an extrovert instead,” according to Elle magazine, in their own list of introverted female leaders.
While her introverted personality may make her want to run and hide at parties, she’s successful in part because she forces herself to stay in situations that may make her uncomfortable at first. In her interview with Vogue, she reveals how making it look easy is hard work:
She suffers from shyness, she says, and has had to discipline herself to deal with it. For the first 15 minutes she wants to leave any party, including one in her own home. “I will literally look at my watch and say, ‘You can’t leave until time X,'” she says. “‘And if you’re still having a terrible time at time X, you can leave.'” She has learned that if she makes herself stay for a fixed period, she often gets over her social awkwardness and ends up having fun.
If there’s question of whether introverts can be world-class successes, the business magnate is “a classic example of an introvert taking careful, well-calibrated risks,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts. The noise of a trading floor is a thrill for extroverts, but introverts take more calculated risks.
Buffett said in a 2004 Berkshire Hathaway letter to investors:
“Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.”
Stepping in recent years out of the shadow of her presidential, boisterous husband, she’s has met criticism for being an overly guarded public figure.
“People assume that everything she does has some core meaning that has implications for her potential presidency or her character,” writes Michael Melcher. “But sometimes Hillary is just being an introvert, and that’s that.”
Like President Obama, Clinton’s private nature helps her deal with media and political storms carefully, instead of impulsively. From the New York Times:
Invoking a mantra attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Clinton likes to say that women in politics “need to develop skin as tough as a rhinoceros hide… I joke that I have the scars to show from my experiences,” she said in an interview.
“But you know, our scars are part of us, and they are a reminder of the experiences we’ve gone through, and our history. I am constantly making sure that the rhinoceros skin still breathes. And that’s a challenge that all of us face. But again, not all of us have to live it out in public.”
You might not expect the founder of the social network to be reserved, but Zuckerberg is a classic introvert. “He is shy and introverted and he often does not seem very warm to people who don’t know him, but he is warm,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the New York Times. She has offered social and political guidance to balance to Zuck’s less-charismatic personality. “He really cares about the people who work here.”
It’s collaborative, genuine connections that make him a persuasive CEO, rather than keeping a wide swath of people under his thumb, are examples of how introverts are valuable employees–and great leaders. From Fast Company’s July/August cover story:
The fact that Zuckerberg can more often than not persuade startup founders to join the company and work with him is a vote for the glass-half-full perspective. “What I found compelling was Mark’s commitment to spending a lot of time with us,” says Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe.
The “Godfather of Silicon Valley” and chief evangelist of Canva, Kawasaki looks the picture of extroversion–even giving talks on enchantment–but he’s a self-proclaimed introvert.
Like others on this list, the spotlight role he’s in is just part of the job. Kawasaki told Cain: “I look upon many of my activities as a role thrust upon me–not ‘me’ per se. It’s like being an actor–you don’t have to be an axe murderer to play an axe murderer. And when the role is over, it’s over.”
The world’s richest man, Microsoft founder, and philanthropist is a little bit of both–he can be at turns “quiet and bookish,” or fiercely un-shy, says Cain, who pegs him as an introvert. But he’s outspoken and unphased when it comes down to business–typical of introverts, to hold to their passions tenaciously.
“Bill brings to the company the idea that conflict can be a good thing,” says Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO in the Time biography . “Bill knows it’s important to avoid that gentle civility that keeps you from getting to the heart of an issue quickly. He likes it when anyone, even a junior employee, challenges him, and you know he respects you when he starts shouting back.”
The value of solitude and deep focus isn’t lost on him. Gates said in a speaking engagement last year:
I think introverts can do quite well. If you’re clever you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, which might be, say, being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area.
It’s a simple fact that some people are easier to like and get along with than others. This almost always has to do with a person’s character. Exceptional leaders are those who are open, social, friendly, communicative, humble, sensitive to others, flexible, honest and down to earth.
These qualities are the exact qualities which leave the deepest and most meaningful impact on others. The type of character we build is our choice. If we make poor choices such as being dishonest, lazy, entitled, egotistical, attention-seeking or blaming we will not develop the type of character others feel compelled to follow.
In every situation we have choice in how we respond. Good character is what separates the great from the average, empty words from action, and the successful from the non-successful.
1. Possess high levels of self-control.
Great leaders are emotionally intelligent, patient and calm under pressure. They see no point in overreacting or allowing their emotions to dictate their words or actions. Their ability to have poise under pressure takes them a long way. This state of serenity and quietude allows great leaders the time to meditate on their thoughts and feelings before speaking on them.
They are wise to provide themselves the space and time to concentrate on which decision will work to their benefit and to the benefit of others. The ability to remain calm is undoubtedly one the most notable traits of leaders with solid character. To become great leaders ourselves, we must train ourselves to hold and express this same type of self-possession.
2. Stay clear of drama.
Drama and attention-seeking are emotional repellents. Nobody enjoys being around those who are creating drama or who seek to be recognized as more special or unique than others. Exceptional leaders, like any of us, have their fair share of personal issues to deal with in their lives, but unnecessary drama and fatalism are not areas they entertain.
Effective solutions cannot develop from chaotic or immature states of mind. To develop our leadership skills, we cannot go around blaming others and making excuses for our poor decisions. We must each cultivate the humility and work ethic to take responsibility for our actions and to do what is within our power to create a positive change in our destiny. Great leaders understand that success is built upon itself over time. Holding this mindset keeps them out of the drama and focused on the bigger picture.
3. Seekers of truth.
Honesty is the foundation exceptional leadership rests upon. Everybody admires people remarkable enough in their character to seek and to live in the truth. Great leaders prefer to hear, or to tell a tough and painful truth over giving or receiving a comforting mistruth as a way to avoid conflict or misfortune. To become a seeker of the truth, we must guide our rational thought process to examine the facts of any situation we are in.
When we gather facts, we are better equipped to make reasonable and resourceful decisions. Exceptional leaders possess the self-control to put their biases and prejudices aside to seek the miraculous. The truth always brings with it the extraordinary experiences we crave. To be great, we must understand that innovation exists at the very edges of our expertise and the information we have not yet discovered.
For us to become seekers of truth, we must abolish living in what is familiar. True happiness and fulfillment always come from exploring what has not yet to be discovered.
4. Place courage over fear.
Exceptional leaders have developed mastery over their fears by training themselves not to regress under stress. They wear their emotions close to their chest, and prefer to place acts of great courage over cowering to their fears. To become fearless leaders, we must view hardships as tests which raise our basic levels of training. Fear is an adrenalized emotion.
Any emotion attached to adrenalin puts a person at risk for acting or speaking too soon. To be great, we must learn to harness our impulses. Fear causes the natural narrowing of our mental focus, which if used correctly, helps us determine which elements of our situation are urgent and which we can wait to execute on. When we have the courage to stay patient and wait for our rational decision-making to kick in, we execute with more confidence.
5. Empathy towards self and others.
Exceptional leaders are naturally empathic. Their trespasses through times of great suffering have developed their keen ability to take-in and understand another’s perception. Never mistake empathy for weakness. Empathy is the most extraordinary Superpower. It is the one emotion that fosters an authentic connection between one human being and another.
Showing empathy, demonstrating our own vulnerability and foibles can only be done when we are confident enough to be exactly who we are. It takes incredible character to remain silent in lei of lashing out, and to be gracious to those who may not deserve it. People of exceptional character shine from within, are approachable, willing to listen and always contribute to raising the morale of everyone around them.
To be a great leader, we must come to appreciate all people. We must offer kindness to those who surround us and discipline ourselves withhold any judgement until we’ve walked a mile in the shoes of another, for each person is fighting battles we may know nothing about.
There is nothing more attractive or empowering than a person who possess high levels of self-awareness. When a person is completely at ease within themselves, others are naturally drawn to them. It is also exactly what inspires other people to want to know themselves more deeply. Exceptional leaders never take their self-awareness for granted.
They understand there are no shortcuts to success. It will require blood, sweat and tears. It is essential that we, like other influential leaders, take time to acknowledge all of our smaller wins, rather than focusing solely on our bigger failures. The best way to develop positive self-awareness is to focus on the good, the wins, and the gains we’ve made through each challenge and to also acknowledge the miraculous new directions to come from our more painful trials. To be exceptional, we must be grateful for all of it.
7. Maintain and nurture their reputation.
The most powerful way to influence others is to have a solid reputation. Great leaders understand their reputation is their most valuable asset. People are drawn to those they love and respect, and who possess flawless levels of personal integrity.
Great leaders are mindful of the extreme vulnerability their reputation is consistently placed under, knowing a solid reputation takes years to build and only one poor, thoughtless or selfish moment to destroy it forever. To be exceptional in our own leadership skills, we must do all we can to keep our reputations clean and impeccable.
We must manage who we are in social media because once something negative we’ve done leaks out, it will be nearly impossible to ever live it down. We must always strive to be a person who seeks respect, honesty and the type of character others feel compelled to follow.
“Seek respect instead of attention. Respect lasts longer.” Pink
As well as providing direction, inspiration, and guidance, good leaders exhibit courage, passion, confidence, commitment, and ambition. They nurture the strengths and talents of their people and build teams committed to achieving common goals. The most effective leaders have the following traits in common.
Share Their Vision
A leader with vision has a clear idea of where they want to go, how to get there and what success looks like. Be sure to articulate your vision clearly and passionately, ensuring your team understands how their individual efforts contribute to higher level goals. Personally working toward your vision with persistence, tenacity, and enthusiasm will inspire and encourage others to do the same.
Lead By Example
As a leader, the best way to build credibility and gain the respect of others is to set the right examples. Demonstrate the behavior that you want people to follow. If you demand a lot of your team, you should also be willing to set high standards for yourself. Aligning your words and actions will help to build trust and make your team more willing to follow your example.
A leader with integrity draws on their values to guide their decisions, behavior, and dealings with others. They have clear convictions about what is right and wrong and are respected for being genuine, principled, ethical and consistent. They have a strong sense of character, keep their promises, and communicate openly, honestly and directly with others. Displaying integrity through your daily actions will see you rewarded with loyalty, confidence, and respect from your employees.
The ability to communicate clearly, concisely and tactfully is a crucial leadership skill. Communication involves more than just listening attentively to others and responding appropriately. It also includes sharing valuable information, asking intelligent questions, soliciting input and new ideas, clarifying misunderstandings, and being clear about what you want. The best leaders also communicate to inspire and energize their staff.
Make Hard Decisions
To be an effective leader, the ability to make fast, difficult decisions with limited information is critical. When facing a tough decision, start by determining what you are trying to achieve. Consider the likely consequences of your decision and any available alternatives. Make your final decision with conviction, take responsibility for it and follow it through. Being a resolute and confident decision-maker will allow you to capitalize on opportunities and earn the respect of your team.
Frequently and consistently recognizing achievement is one of the most powerful habits of inspiring leaders. For people to stretch themselves and contribute their best efforts, they need to know their work will be valued and appreciated. Find ways to celebrate the achievements of your people, even if it’s through a simple ‘well done.’ As well as boosting morale, it will also strengthen their motivation to continue giving their best.
Great leaders understand that for people to give their best, they must have a sense of ownership over their work and believe that what they’re doing is meaningful. Communicate clear goals and deadlines to your team, and then give them the autonomy and authority to decide how the work gets done. Challenge them with high expectations and encourage them to be creative and show innovation.
Motivate and Inspire
The best leaders drive their team forward with passion, enthusiasm, inspiration and motivation. Invest time in the people you lead to determine their strengths, needs, and priorities. As well as making them feel valuable, this will help you to understand the best way to motivate them. Continually reinforce how their efforts are making a difference, and encourage the development of their potential with meaningful goals and challenges.
One of the greatest things about leadership is that we all bring something different to the table. If you were to read articles on good leadership qualities, you would usually see factors like integrity, effective communication and influence. These are all wonderful qualities of a leader, but I am going to share something I believe has made me stand out as a leader — putting my people ahead of myself.
I must admit, in my early days as a leader I was all about me. I had a title and I thought that was all I needed. I thought because of my title everyone would follow me and respect me. I didn't think leadership was something I needed to work hard at. I had already arrived.
Boy, was I wrong!
Lucky for me, I had a few great leaders who cared about me enough to confront me about my selfish attitude. As leaders, we need to be able to recognize people who are not performing at their greatest level and provide support and feedback to them. I had no idea I was failing as a leader and hurting my people because of my pompous attitude.
I do believe that some people are born leaders and learn throughout life to become better leaders. One of the best lessons I learned was that it is not about me. When I made the transition from valuing myself to valuing my people, I was transformed as a leader. My mentor John Maxwell, in his book "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect" writes, "When we learn to turn our focus from ourselves to others, the whole world opens up to us." When you understand this and take the focus away from you, it will change who you are as a leader.
I’d like to share some ways you can work toward valuing your people more:
• View your people as your biggest success. A good leader supports those around them. Your focus should be on developing them, helping them succeed, and watching them grow into the people they want to become. When your people are successful, it is a reflection on you as a leader. Work hard on your people. They are your biggest asset. Without them, your team can fail.
• Acknowledge and appreciate people. Everyone wants to be valued. It is critical as a leader to give your people credit and recognition for the incredible things they do. One of the reasons people leave a job is because they feel underappreciated. A leader should never take the credit for the work that their people do.
A good leader is a generous leader who recognizes people. Work recognition into the culture of your team. Make a conscious effort to call out your top producers in a recurring meeting. When others see a coworker being recognized, it infuses motivation into your team. Everyone will work harder to be the next person whose hard work is recognized.
• Know your people. I mean really know them. Sure, you may know their names and their positions and what they are working on, but do you really know them? Do they have children? Do you know where they came from? Do you know what they have done in their lives before they started working with you? Most importantly, do you know their hopes and dreams? Getting to know them in a more personal way will make them feel valued and increase their respect for you as a leader.
• Leave your ego at the door. People are going to do better than you. You will have people on your team who have significant achievements. They may get another degree, get a certification, or move on to a new position. One of the biggest compliments you can receive as a leader is to have one of your people move on to a better opportunity. Be proud, not jealous.
• Empower your people. Everyone wants to be trusted to make decisions. Empower your people to make certain decisions. Do not short change them. Allow them opportunities to shine rather than discounting their abilities and doing it yourself. Do you have a big presentation coming up with your executive team? Allow one of your top performers to give the presentation instead. Being empowered will make them confident and help them strive for larger-than-life goals.
Leadership is both a gift and a privilege. You can erode the cohesion of your team if you fail to value them. Everyone on the team deserves to be valued. Each one of them performs an essential part to keep the engine of your company running. When you can put your people’s needs and interests before your own, you will be a more successful leader.
In one of my previous articles The Art of Woo, I wrote about a group of Marines making their way through Afghanistan to help protect a group of government official when the team came under heavy gunfire from three sides and one Capt. William D. Swenson who was given a Medal of Honor, ran into the line of fire to bring the injured men to safety during the ambush.
One of the medevac team who came to airlift the injured men out of the area wore one of those GoPro cameras on his helmet and captured the entire rescue live. The captain, with assistance from one of his comrades, brought one of the injured Marines to the helicopter with a gunshot wound to his neck.
They place the injured man down in the helicopter, Captain Swenson, breathing heavily and tired but energize because his adrenaline is running, kissed the injured marine on his forehead and went back into the heart of the gunfire to rescue more people.
Unfortunately, Captain Swenson never got to see that injure marine again. I listen to this, and I said to myself, wow when a leader has a deep-seated love for his team, they will lay their life for that team. That's a perfect example of why leaders lead by example. Cap Swenson display the behavior he expects from his team and in return, his team will never second guess his trust and loyalty.
When leaders say one thing, but do another, they erode trust, a critical element of productive leadership. According to Michael Schrage, serious leaders understand that both by design and default, they’re always leading by example. Some want to “lead from the front” while others prefer“leading from behind.”
Here are a few examples of executives that led by example:
- A Silicon Valley start-up CEO attended his company’s diversity/inclusivity training workshop for the entire day. “Everyone needed to know I took this seriously,” he said.
- A manufacturing executive pointed to her on- and off-site Spanish lessons so she could better communicate with her workforce.
- A senior project manager cited the highly public immediate dismissal of a direct report who had fudged a quality control audit and then lied about it.
- A founder/entrepreneur immediately pointed to promoting the college drop-out into a senior management position over an MBA. He wanted his people to value performance over credentials.
- A managing partner at a global consulting firm makes a point of coming to the office straight from red-eye flights and radiating productive energy.
- At an Asian company, a hard-charging intrapreneur/executive referenced flying to a valued customer in Europe for a week to make sure a novel instrument installation worked as promised.
Leadership is the process by which one individual influences the behaviors, attitudes, and thoughts of others. Although the injured Solider, who was saved by Captain Swenson succumbed to his injuries, Captain Swenson men admired his boldness and dedication to his team, and as a result, his influence and trust within his unit multiply 100 times over.
Leaders set the direction by helping others see what lies ahead, they see everyone’s potential and encourage and inspire those around them to believe in the impossible by their words, actions, and behaviors.
Great teams are led by great leaders, and great leaders all share traits that are absolutely essential to their ability to lead. These are the 5 most important traits leaders have--if you're a leader, they will transform the way you lead for mind-blowingly rewarding results.
One of the most valuable traits a human being can possess is the ability to understand people. Those who are able to understand the emotions of others are better equipped to respond to them--and subsequently develop stronger, more substantial relationships with those on their teams. Leaders who are able to demonstrate empathy can more easily gain the support of those around them, becoming more respected in the eyes of their employees.
Self-awareness--as well as insight when it comes to the actions of others--is always key to making the best decisions. Having enough awareness of how employees feel, even without someone explicitly telling you, or which projects are or aren't going over well, is a tremendously valuable asset. Without first being aware of a problem, it will be impossible to fix it.
There's nothing more despicable than dishonesty. When someone's trust is broken, it can rarely be gained back. This is something that holds true both in our everyday lives and our professional ones as well. Great leaders always maintain a level of transparency, regardless of how difficult it may seem. It always pays off in the end.
One of the biggest problems with society today is our inability to choose from the multitude of options surrounding us. Thus, in such a dynamic landscape, it's imperative that great leaders have enough decisiveness to carry us through. They should be quick on their feet and able to make huge, on-the-go decisions in an educated manner, gathering the data they need.
Despite how easy it may seem, it's not easy to keep up positive energy. When things go sour, morale is the first thing to fall, but excellent leaders are always the ones who can pull it back up. They know the time for encouraging words, for boosting team spirit, and for making sure that people feel good enough about what they're doing to keep forging on.
To achieve the highest success, you have to embrace the prospect of failure. Whether you are a renowned business owner, executive, politician, father, mother, writer, priest or pastor, I assure you no one is without mistakes, and I am 100% sure they have failed countless times before. Like you, they are human, failure is part of the journey you’re on, and no matter how much you would like to avoid it, you cannot. Instead, you must learn how to handle it better and to become comfortable with it.
When James Quincey became the CEO of Coca-Cola, he called upon the rank-and-file managers to get beyond the fear of failure that had dogged the company since the “New Coke” fiasco of so many years ago. Quincey said, “If we’re not making mistakes we’re not trying hard enough.”
According to Pauline Estrem when we take a closer look at the great thinkers throughout history, a willingness to take on failure isn’t a new or extraordinary thought at all. From the likes of Augustine, Darwin, and Freud to the business mavericks and sports legends of today, failure is as powerful a tool as any in reaching great success.
“Failure and defeat are life’s greatest teachers [but] sadly, most people, and particularly conservative corporate cultures, don’t want to go there,” says Ralph Heath, managing partner of Synergy Leadership Group and author of Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big.
“Instead they choose to play it safe, to fly under the radar, repeating the same safe choices over and over again. They operate under the belief that if they make no waves, they attract no attention; no one will yell at them for failing because they never attempt anything great at which they could fail (or succeed).”
Some people get paralyzed by failure, and they believe if they fail at something that's it, my life is over. The sweetest victory is the one that’s most difficult. The one that requires you to reach down deep inside, to fight with everything you’ve got, to be willing to leave everything out there on the battlefield—without knowing, until that do-or-die moment.
Early on in Denzel Washington career for example, he auditioned for a part in a Broadway musical. A perfect role for him, he thought, except for the fact that, Denzel didn’t get the job. But here’s the thing about the story. He didn’t quit; he didn’t fall back. Denzel Washington walked out of there to prepare for the next audition, and the next audition, and the next audition. He prayed and prayed, but continued to fail, and fail, and fail but it didn’t matter because you know what? There’s an old saying according to Dezil Washington “if you hang around a barbershop long enough, sooner or later you will get a haircut. You will catch a break.”
Fail early, fail often, fail forward.
Last year Denzil Washington starred in a play called Fences on Broadway, and he won a Tony Award but here’s the kicker, it was at that Court Theater, the same theater where Denzil failed that first audition thirty years prior. Do you have guts to fail; if you don’t fail, you’re living your life so cautiously you are not even trying.
To achieve your personal best, to reach unparalleled heights, to make the impossible possible, you can’t fear failure, you must think big, and you have to push yourself. Many of us avoid the prospect of failure. In fact, we’re so focused on not failing that we don’t aim for success, settling instead for a life of mediocrity.
If you want to be great and experience the heights of success like the greats in leadership, you must get comfortable with failure.
Can you lead a company back from the edge of bankruptcy? The transformational journey of a company close to bankruptcy and back to profitability is very, very fascinating to read. Two cases immediately come to mind, Steve Jobs returning to Apple and Carlo Goshen turnaround of Nissan. But Ford turnaround and the leadership prowess of Allan Mulally took home the first prize in my opinion.
I am a huge fan of Allan Mulally leadership style. What his team accomplished at Ford is nothing short of legendary, and it was captured well in Bryce G. Hoffman book American Icon: Allan Mulally And The Fight To Save Ford Motor Company. If you want a blueprint, behind the scenes road map on how to save a company, you must read this book.
After analyzing the changes at Ford and dissecting Mulally leadership style, it is very refreshing to witness the actual meaning of servant leadership, someone who is more of an advocate as indicated in my article The Art of Woo as oppose to an authoritarian type of leader who believes the world revolves around their presence.
Mulally is a leader who inspires and bring out the best in people, a leader who lead from a position of values and genuinely have the best interest of their staff at heart. When you have that type of leadership in your company, it will flourish. Now let put the article into context and revisit the company Mulally inherited in 2006 to give you an appreciation of the transformation.
Ford lost 12 billion dollars in 2006 The demand for Ford vehicles was declining rapidly Their vehicles were uninspiring Their share price was at the lowest rate everThe culture of the company was nauseatingly toxic Staff morale was the lowest it has ever been There was no synergy among the various business units in the world and the company completely lost its focus.
The above description looks daunting, and you may be wondering who in their right mind will take such a responsibility with a company losing 12 billion dollars in one year and hemorrhaging cash at an alarming rate. Well, this was the situation at Ford in 2006, on the brink of bankruptcy and feverishly looking for someone to help turn things around.
Allan Mulally, the former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, was recruited by Bill Ford to be the new Chief Executive Officer of this very dysfunctional multinational company. What made this case so special for me, was his ability to rally the company around a vision, his strategic focus and most of all the humility he brought to the executive team. To lead a business during that time of difficulty required something special and Mulally and his staff pulled off the inconceivable.
If you think I am very melodramatic, in 2006 Wall Street analyst predicted that Ford would be the first of the big 3 to file for bankruptcy given the nature of the company at that time, but it turned out very differently. I want to share with you the five leadership skills anyone leading a company can learn from Allan Mulally.
“At the most fundamental level, it is an honor to serve—at whatever type or size of organization you are privileged to lead, whether it is a for-profit or non-profit. It is an honor to serve”.
People give CEOs a larger than life personality in their company and many CEOs accept this overture with open arms. They treat their businesses as a kingdom, sitting on their throne looking at the peasants working in the field. When Mulally became the CEO at Ford he understood the culture but more importantly, he was fully attuned to the gap between the executive and the rest of the company. Mulally made it his business to change this because he knew if the company had any chance of a comeback, every single employee must be on board.
Mulally stood in the line at the cafeteria like everybody else waiting for his lunch and soliciting feedback from his staff in the corridor. If you are familiar with the culture in Dearborn, it was unheard of that any CEO of the big three will have that type of interaction with junior staff in the company. Mulally, however, understood that the firm needed to work together as a team if Ford had any chance of survival. Mulally also knew that the CEO must walk the talk and lead by example and it must start with him and the executive team at the company.
Mulally’s leadership style reflected this. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, classified this type of leadership as level 5 Executive. Someone who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Mulally was a coach, not a king and while he relished the spotlight that came from Ford’s incredible resurgence, he was always pulling other executives with him.
Purpose and Communication is Absolutely Important
When Mulally arrived in Dearborn, one of his first priorities was identifying Ford’s core purpose and charting a vision for Ford recovery. Mulally found an ad from 1925 in which Henry Ford outlined his purpose for the company: “Opening the highways for all mankind.” Mulally had that ad blown up and mounted on his wall. He passed out copies to each of Ford’s top executives.
Mulally made sure that all future product decisions would be weighed against that promise. The core purpose was used as the guiding light for the company and reignited the fire that somehow got extinguish. Ford required a change of focus, vision, strategy and culture. The glue that held all the components together inside and outside of the company was communication.
The team developed their One Ford Plan, which became the reference point for the transformation. Mulally had this plan printed on wallet cards and distributed to every Ford employee. He opened every weekly meeting by reviewing them. He recited them in every speech, in every town hall meeting, in every press conference.
One of the most critical variable use to achieve the transformation was a compelling vision, clarity of strategy, open and honest communication and a change of values. Mulally ensure that his communication was constant and consistent to point where people got fed up of hearing the four-point plan.
Mulally went at lengths to communicate and make people feel comfortable about the change and to explain their role in the process. His positive influence over the company eventually caught on and even his doubters begin to believe in his ability to pull this thing off. When you have open and honest communication in your business, it will remove any ambiguity and allow your employees to trust the plan, trust the process and most importantly trust the leader.
The Positive Psychology of Leadership
Weak leaders focus on all the things that are going wrong. Great leaders like Mulally bring out the best in his team. The most effective leaders apply the principles of positive psychology, ensuring their interactions with employees contain a healthy balance of positive and constructive feedback. They maintain an optimistic outlook despite the setbacks, reinforcing that there is a hopeful way forward.
A Stanford social psychologist Leon Festinger in his 1957 published theory of cognitive dissonance, found that when people believe that their beliefs are inconsistent with their actions, a deep-seated need arises to eliminate that dissonance by changing either their actions or their beliefs.
To change any behavior in your company, you should start with changing the mindset of your employees. If you get your staff to believe in the purpose of the company, you stand an excellent chance to change their behavior. Remember what Mulally did when he arrived in Dearborn and found that ad from 1925 from Henry Ford. It was blown up and placed in his office, and a copy was given to all his managers.
That core purpose “opening up the highway for all mankind” was use as the catalyst to change the belief of the management team and by extension the company. Mulally understood that if he got his team to believe in the purpose of the company, a change in behavior will follow. But it all started with the mindset, when people feel included and accountable in a very supportive work environment, you get the best out of your staff.
Build a Culture of Trust
The Ford that Mulally inherited was notorious for its sharp-elbowed corporate politics and boardroom backstabbing. The company’s culture had become so caustic that every good idea and smart initiative was stillborn; executives were too focused on preserving their interest as opposed to the overall success of the company.
Before Mulally arrived in Dearborn, high-level meetings were arenas for mortal combat. Executives would enter them looking for weak points in each other’s armor. This made it impossible to have an honest discussion about the company’s many challenges, because any time an executive admitted they had a problem, their rivals would pounce.
The turnaround at Ford really began when the executive team started to trust one another. During the team BPR meeting, Mulally asks all his manager to use a color code in their presentation. Green if there no problems, Yellow if the problem is being dealt with and Red if there is no solution. Because the culture was so toxic, no one wanted to admit a problem existed, so in every meeting, all the slides were green to point where Mulally ask the team “guys we are projected to lose 12 billion dollars is there anything that is going wrong”.
The vice president of the Americas Mark Fields was the only person to include a red spot on his slide at one of the meetings. Now, picture that room at that very moment, everyone waiting for the response of the new CEO. But Mulally clapped his hand and indicated to Mark "that is excellent visibility" and asked the team for help to solve Mark’s problem.
At that moment, some of the executives indicated their willingness to assist in resolving the problem and that allowed the other managers to show their problems in their unit. At that moment the real transformation began, only because the CEO made it safe for the team to address their problems and trust was built into the culture.
Can you lead a turnaround, yes you can? What is required is an authentic leader who can bring out the best in people, to recognize potential, to empower people to take responsibility and to create an environment where everyone understands that working together is the key.
On his first day as Ford’s CEO in 2006, Mulally asked to tour Ford’s famous Rouge plant where Henry Ford created the Model T. Mulally was informed by one of his top executives, “Our leaders don’t talk directly to the factory employees.” Ignoring that advice, he went to the plant immediately to talk to front-line.
When you have a consistency of purpose across your entire organization, and you have nurtured an environment in which people want to help each other succeed around a vision, your company will be on the road to success.
Thanks for the inspiration to write this article Dr. Goldsmith and Pawel Motyl.
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