Failure – oh my!

I attended a meeting today during which the question arose as to how to make the educational experience more meaningful to students. With subtle filter in place, I offered the idea that as faculty, we need to help our students deal more effectively with failure. Why is that?

Well, not everyone is going to get a participation trophy for simply registering for class. (At least I hope not.) I know things have changed since I was last in undergraduate school. But I think it’s still required that students participate in class discussions and activities, do well on exams, quizzes, etc., and turn in required assignments on time that meet the academic standards for whatever school they’re attending. College should prepare students for the real world of being an adult – a responsible adult. In the real world, we don’t usually have someone telling us when to go to work, how to dress, how to do every assigned task, etc. If someone has a job where the supervisor looks over the shoulder of every single employee, pointing out when they’re making a mistake and taking the time to correct that mistake for them, and the employee is still getting paid (on top of keeping his/her job), please tell me where I send in an application.

Failure is not a horrible thing.  Think of it as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and improve our skills. Certainly it hurts the ego when we fail.  For all those former students out there who sailed through high school with straight A’s, remember how it felt when you received your first ever B or C in college? Once the shock passed, what was the result? More than likely it was a higher level of motivation and effort so the B or C was quickly overwhelmed with A’s again. I don’t think we’re doing our younger generation any good by awarding them prizes for simply showing up.  Life requires more than that. It requires a commitment to do our best each and every time. Remember that success is usually the result of hard work.

Can it get any worse?

Aunt Nell was furious with you.  Over the objections of the board you went ahead and commissioned a new program to implement political correctness.  After spending almost half a million dollars on your plan, the new employee job satisfaction surveys have come in.  Good Lord!  Aunt Nell pointed out that despite the money spent productivity is no higher and surprisingly, employee satisfaction is flat in some areas and down significantly in others.   “All you’ve done is introduce our employees to tyranny cloaked in the appearance of manners,” she pointed out.  When you stated that we’re now in the 21st century and political correctness was the dominant approach, meaning the company had to consider the feelings of people, she slammed her hand on your desk.  “You’ve forgotten our history,” she said in a frosty tone of voice.  “You’ve just told me that treating people with dignity and respect is obsolete.  When your grandparents started this company people were hired on the basis of their qualifications.  We didn’t care about their race, sex, color or creed and we still don’t.  We don’t even care what they do in the privacy of their own homes as long as it’s not illegal.  What matters is that we created and maintain a business where people feel valued for their contributions.  You’ve created an atmosphere where people can’t even talk with one another about issues or behaviors, for fear of being labeled a racist, bigot, sexist or whatever.”  She got up to leave.  “Since when have the demands of a vocal tyrannical minority been more important than treating everyone with dignity and respect?  All of our employees matter, not just those who want to promote their own agenda.  Give me one concrete example where your political correctness has built a cooperative sense of belonging to a team that truly values you as an individual.  You need to take a good hard look at what you’ve done to this company. More importantly, take a hard look at the message you’ve sent our employees. You don’t listen to what our employees have to say.  Instead, you hide behind some fad set of policies. You think I’m a meddler because I frequently visit with our employees.  What’s the name of the foreman in our Branch #2?  How’s his wife doing after her surgery?”  Aunt Nell walked to the door.  “We don’t need your political correctness.  We need to continue to treasure our employees because at the end of the day, they’re the foundation of our success.”

When companies fail is it because leaders can’t lead? (PART III)

Companies that look good on paper but still fail may have a history of repeating mistakes.  Is it possible that these companies don’t follow through with their technological or market edge and fail to achieve success?  In sports such behavior is known as “choking.”  Have these companies “choked” at crucial moments?   Why?  The repetition of behaviors known to be unsuccessful may reflect an inability of  the leadership team to correctly identify the problem and implement realistic, practical solutions.  If a problem solver has been hired, does the leadership have the courage to implement the recommended programs to resolve the problems?  If not, why not?  Perhaps the failure of such companies is a result of “group think.”  Those in leadership positions and able to implement solutions don’t think through the long term and short term consequences of impractical solutions.  Instead, leadership sets a tone where everyone has to agree with the leader.  (Anyone remember the fable of the emperor’s new clothes?)  No one steps up and points out the flaws in the thinking or in the implementation of a bad solution.  This usually happens in work environments where creativity and independent thought are perceived as negative behaviors.

So now you’re the leader of a failing organization.  What approach are you going to take?  Will you have the confidence in yourself and the people around you to inspire creativity and independent thought?  Or will you simply demand that everyone march in lock step over the cliff like a bunch of lemmings?  If you haven’t done so already, do you have the confidence to hire a problem solver to help you resolve the issues blocking your organization’s progress toward real success and financial stability?  A collaborative approach to identifying and resolving the problems is certainly worth the effort if your organization is facing failure.  It can’t hurt and when Aunt Nellie calls again, refer her to the problem solver.  That should free you up to focus your energies on solving your organization’s problems once and for all.

When companies fail, is it because leaders can’t lead? (PART II)

What about the companies we see in the news (at least in the financial and business news) as they struggle to survive?  It’s not always about the money.  One thing leaders of companies on the brink of failure should look at is how well their company solves problems.  The first step is the correct identification of the problems.  If hiring large problem solving firms of consultants hasn’t stopped the bleeding, so to speak, perhaps the approach to problem solving needs to be reassessed.  Most large problem solving consulting firms do wonderful work but there may be times when they don’t achieve success, through no fault of their own.  Their lack of success in certain situations may result from how the consulting firm was introduced.   In the rush to solve the problems immediately, management may not  properly introduce  the problem solvers to company personnel.   The consulting firm is put behind the eight ball with no real chance for success.  If that happens, management should consider if a single problem solving consultant might achieve the opening of the lines of communication so that problem solving can begin.  Why would single “no-name” problem solvers have an advantage in such circumstances?    A single consultant could be introduced as a new member of management or the HR department, or whatever.  He or she can focus upon getting the problems identified correctly, communicate directly with the parties involved and not worry about any advance PR campaign which was put out by management.    There’s a time and place for large scale consulting organizations to become involved. In many situations such firms do a wonderful job of identifying problems and implementing realistic solutions. But when their efforts fail, leaders should consider the single practitioner approach before closing the doors.

When companies fail, is it because leaders can’t lead? (Part I)

 We’ve all heard in recent years of so-called successful companies going under.  Why is that?  Is it because the leaders aren’t good leaders?  I’m quite sure we’ll get serious disagreement by anyone trying to answer that question, especially if some of the folks have a personal stake in the response.  But what if we pose the question a little differently?  What if the company’s failure is not the result of a leader’s inability to lead but rather, the leader’s inability to be a problem solver?

 The leader of an organization has many hats to wear, including chief problem solver.  But do we seriously believe that Donald Trump, for example, is engaged in daily problem solving for every single problem, no matter how inconsequential, which develops within his organization?  How realistic is that?  What makes Trump the leader that he has become is his ability to surround himself with extremely competent people whose goal is to identify problem areas and areas needing improvement and develop realistic solutions to implement.  These folks bring the complete package to their leader’s attention and a collaborative approach is taken for the implementation of the solution, usually followed by an objective, honest assessment of how well the solution is working.  That’s what makes Trump the success that he is, in my view.  He hires good problem solvers and then relies upon them – and expects them – to do their job to the best of their ability.

Why do I have to keep fixing this same old mess?

If you’re the leader or manager of an organization, you get the nomination to solve the problems because, as a dear friend has said told me, “you’re the head Fred what’s in charge” – and don’t forget Aunt Nellie and her monthly dividend payment.

If you find yourself having to revisit old problems you thought were solved, you need to remember a couple of things.  First, you were promoted or hired for the position because of your abilities and your dedication to insuring the success of the organization, no matter how large or small.  Taking on these responsibilities has to mean something more than getting a key to the executive bathroom.  You’re supposed to have the intelligence and abilities to address whatever problems develop.  Part of your skill set needs to be the ability to recognize when something is outside your ability to handle.  Second, when you find yourself addressing the same old problem time and time again, that’s when you need to acknowledge that intervention by a professional problem solving consultant is needed.  When the same problem continues to rear its ugly head, it may be that you’ve not yet discovered the root cause of the problem.  If that’s the case, no solution you implement will be permanently effective.  But a permanent fix can be developed when you hire a professional problem solving consultant.

Remember our last conversation?  The professional problem solving consultant comes in with only one agenda and that’s to discover the root cause of the problems and develop an effective, permanent solution.  So when problems don’t ever seem to get resolved, consider hiring a problem solving consultant.   It will certainly make your life as the leader/manager a whole lot easier and you can devote more time to listening to Aunt Nellie’s ideas on how to run the business.