We’ve all seen the headlines touting the companies that have found an untapped niche in the market and have taken off like rockets. Their outlook was extraordinarily promising in terms of a captivating vision – so many of them the darlings of Wall Street. On paper, everything with these companies seemed almost perfect; leaders with excellent credentials, top notch education, the perfect product, the best pitch, meaningful purpose, etc… It seemed that they could do no wrong and people started believing everything they said was the holy grail….
Ultimately taking a look underneath the hood, often there were “truths” that only the inner circle had access to. Some of these organizations’ leaders were extraordinarily secretive. This secrecy eventually made people suspicious and was a part of their undoing. Or they ruled with a brashness that people accepted as impatient brilliance –serial bad behavior was overlooked until it couldn’t be swept under the rug any longer.
When leaders start to believe they are infallible and that their way is the “only way”, they’ll do anything – and I mean anything – to protect that point-of-view. Their myopic vision prevents them from hearing what they need to hear—from their peers, employees, and their customers. The vision starts to crumble, employee turnover increases, and customers leave in droves.
Then comes the worst part of all: They’re so blindly driven to make their direction work that they start making really bad choices. These bad choices then compound with one another and it all quickly spins out of control. Sometimes to the point of where it all comes crashing down. Everyone loses; employees, partners, customers, investors, and of course the leader who made it all possible.
When leaders fail – and we all inevitably do – it sometimes happens in very public forums and their fall from grace is the fodder for the news cycle for days. If they are lucky, this will be their wakeup call. The breaking point is what often precipitates the leadership paradigm shift. The beauty of mistakes is they are excellent opportunities for experiential learning. Great leaders take the education they receive from the school of hard knocks and apply it to make them better going forward.
How did they get there? They DID have a great idea, product, or process to begin with. Because leaders are human and imperfect they also have egos and are attracted to the allure of success; the white-hot spotlight is a powerful drug. Gaining notoriety for past decisions that seemed to pay off is reinforcement that makes it difficult to change course. Deep down, leaders may know that they are taking the company down a dark path but perhaps feel trapped by the acclaim they have received or how big the company has grown and how many lives will be impacted. It could also be that they are dependent on a strategy that has not proven out, are afraid to admit it was wrong, and aren’t sure how to stop the momentum to course correct.
Leaders who find themselves in a situation where they are driving so hard that they are actually not in tune with the reality around them need to slow down:
Reflection is imperative. What’s working? What isn’t? What’s being compromised? What has changed? What new opportunities are there?
Become the Chief Listening Officer—bring others into the circle to solicit feedback. Go to peers, employees, clients, advisors. Evaluate the feedback and find the trends in opportunities and problems, look for the nuggets of brilliance, and begin to identify solutions.
Openly share failures and missteps and take ownership. Share what was learned. Discuss findings, make observations, and create synergy to find solutions.
Communicate the new and improved vision. What will be done to fix the past blunders? What will stop and what will start? What is the new path going forward? Hold up the lantern so all can clearly see the new path to success.
Making mistakes is part of leadership and many of the most revered leaders made many, many missteps before they hit the jackpot of great decisions that they are now remembered fondly for. When leaders slow down, take off the blinders, take ownership, and listen to learn and grow, the new and improved path will get them to success faster than the one before.
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