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Failure is a failure if that’s all it is – it’s only a life event if you learn from it

February 18, 2009

“There were always good short-term reasons for not doing something”
Quote from A. Andrew Shapiro regarding GM, NYT, 2-18-09

Craig Ferguson, the TV personality and late night talk show host, was being interviewed by Michael Eisner the other day and mentioned that one of the reasons he truly loves this country is because America is the place where if you fail, you pick yourself up, without shame, and “get on with it”.

This is neither the time to sit there and wallow in pity, nor is it the time to act rashly. Leaders are all going to fail at least a little bit during this depression, no matter how hard we try. OK, I agree, there’s a wide range on the Fail Continuum and not all of us are going to hit the iceberg. But a good percent of us will either scrape the iceberg or come pretty darn close. The way to make this a future positive is understanding, and this take honest self-reflection and potentially, self improvement.

Many of today’s business leaders, of all stripes and sizes of company, came of age in the Era of Plenty. We had economic downturns, but they were not implosions on the order of what we have now and will have for 3-5 years to come. Yes, 3-5 years to come. I met yesterday with an Investment Banker whose institution didn’t need a bailout, and he told me his trading desk was preparing for Dow 6,000 later this year. Nice. Most of today’s leaders have never seen mass hyperinflation, mass unemployment, deflation, gas lines or experienced the pessimism of the 1970’s. As leaders they’re only good as long as things are good and so their minds are aligned to repeat success and not early detect failures.

How to become great even during these times and emerge stronger than before? The answer is to stop giving good reasons for inaction and take hard decisions when necessary going forward. Which decisions? That’s where introspection, both personal and Management Team has to take place. What red flags did we miss? How early did they appear? Were they rampant or was it a quick blip we missed? Did we not act on them because we missed them or was it denial? Did we miss them because we didn’t have the right information to spot them? Again, do this fast, thoroughly, but do not use this as an excuse for short-term inaction.

I’ve blogged previously of how people will repeat mistakes and make the same bad decisions, with slight variations, again and again. I’ve seen this first hand when I step into a situation and nearly 100% of the time, they’ve done this mistake before in some form, but they didn’t sit down and think and learn. FAILURE IS A FAILURE IF THAT’S ALL IT IS – IT’S ONLY AN EVENT IF YOU LEARN FROM IT. GET ON WITH IT.


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