Tag Archives: Failure

When Leaders Insulate: The Dangers of Corrosive Privilege

I recently read a fascinating article by Rebecca Solnit on how being born to privilege has had a corrosive effect on Donald Trump and his presidency. She discusses the ways an individual raised in a protected bubble of wealth and power becomes isolated from the rest of the world. After reading Solnit’s piece, it’s evident that the trappings she associates with Trump can become obstacles for all leaders. Here are three lessons that sound out:

Setbacks

We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us.—Rebecca Solnit

There is a mentality amongst some leaders that acknowledging failure is a weakness. As a result, they shift responsibility (i.e. blame others) so they are no longer accountable, artificially reframe setbacks as new opportunities, and/or outright change the end-goal so the outcome can now be viewed as a win.

While “not failing” may feel good, it is a false sense of satisfaction. Leaders must build the thick skin necessary to accept and learn from disappointment without carrying the weight of feeling like a failure. Otherwise we risk becoming overly sensitive and brittle, unequipped to make the adjustments necessary to rebound and adapt.

As leaders, we must also allow others to fail. Solnit writes of rich college kids who are not allowed to fail because their parents “[keep] throwing out safety nets and buffers” that protect them from experiencing adversity. As nice as this may sound, when we live without consequences, our lives become inconsequential—we cannot feel the highs of achievement without also having faced the lows of failure.

Self-Reflection

Power corrupts, and absolute power often corrupts the awareness of those who possess it.—Rebecca Solnit

In Hannah Arendt’s book On the Origins of Totalitarianism, she promotes the need for an inner dialogue where we can cross-examine ourselves, where we can ask the difficult questions. If we can master this skill, we are better equipped to have these discussions with the people around us. If we lack the ability to self-interrogate, we are prone to suffer from, what Arendt calls, the banality of evil, i.e. “the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself, or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.”

Obliviousness

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society.—Rebecca Solnit

We need people in our lives who have the ability to provide unfiltered commentary. These individuals cannot be fearful of repercussions, nor can they hold back in the hopes of gaining some type of advantage. They must be willing to give it to us straight and we must be open to what they are saying. Otherwise, we risk becoming oblivious.

Obliviousness is not a sign of low intelligence, but an indication that the leader is sequestered from information that runs counter to their viewpoint. It tends to happen over time as we weed out those who are the bearers of bad news, those who are perceived as not being “on board,” and those who are damaging our precious self-esteem with their critique. Before we know it, we are surrounded by yes-men and sycophants who tell us what we want to hear versus what we need to hear. In the end, not only are we alone, but their biased feedback has infected us with delusional thinking, faulty decision making, and a general lack of insight into how our team and the population-at-large are feeling.

Being in a position of power can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to. Leaders must seek and foster relationships outside of their power structure. Our associates keep us honest. They ensure we remain grounded and in touch with reality. And they provide the feedback, criticism, and advice that, while not preferable, is essential to avoiding the impairments of corrosive privilege.

The Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein, and the Rebuilding of a Legendary Franchise

chicago-cubsThe Chicago Cubs are in the World Series. If you aren’t a baseball fan, this may not seem like a big deal, but consider that the team hasn’t won Major League Baseball’s sought-after championship in 108 years. This is the longest championship drought in North American sports history.

Many fans blame the Cubs’ losing streak on being cursed. You can choose from the 1945 curse of the Billy Goat, the 1969 black cat incident, or Steve Bartman’s unfortunate 2003 interference with a critical foul ball. While one of these curses may have led to their problems, we can credit solid leadership (and a league-best regular season record) with getting them out.

In 2012, the Cubs lost 101 games. As part of their rebuilding process, the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, decided it was time to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Epstein stressed that while acquiring talent is essential, it is meaningless without a culture based upon a winning attitude.

To establish this new culture, they created the “Cubs’ Way,” a written set of guiding principles that standardize the organization’s philosophy. With it’s three core goals—Be a good neighbor, Preserve historic Wrigley Field, and Win the World Series—the Cubs’ Way applies to everyone, from Epstein to the players, to their minor league scout, to the ticket office attendees, to interns.

The Cubs’ Way really boils down to the people. The players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues. It’s more than words on a page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches, the players, how hard we work.—Theo Epstein

With a new organizational philosophy came new recruitment criteria. In a recent interview, Epstein emphasized one of his prime hiring gauges, knowing how players handle failure. This is key in a game where even the best hitters fail 70% of their time at bat. To find these players, Cubs’ scouts must produce three detailed examples of how prospective players faced adversity on the field and three examples off the field.

In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. What are their backgrounds, their psyches, their habits, and what makes them tick?— Theo Epstein

Since Epstein’s focus is on the big picture, he needed a Manager who could uphold these values in the bullpen. In 2014, he hired veteran Joe Maddon. While Maddon’s responsibilities include those of the typical manager such as determining team strategy, the lineup, and in-game decisions, he has a few irregular habits that have significantly benefited the team’s on-field performance. After every win, the team holds a 30-minute impromptu dance party in the locker room, which includes a disco ball, lights, and a fog machine. After each loss, players are given 30 minutes to mope. Once the half hour of celebration or sulking passes, it’s time to start preparing for the next game.

Try not to suck.—Joe Maddon

Turning around a floundering organization begins with turning around its culture. Success follows culture; culture never follows success. Like the Cubs, you may have a deep roster of talent, but without properly cultivating its capabilities, you and your team will never reach the championships. Lead the charge to set your version of the Cubs’ Way to get your culture on track. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of avoiding a century-long losing streak.

10 Leadership Quotes to Get You Through the Holidays

end of the yearAnother year, another list of great quotes that I wasn’t able to use in an article. So, in an attempt to kick off 2016 with a fresh list of topical pop culture references, the following are ten leadership quotes to inspire you through the holidays.

Jennifer Lawrence“Waking up without a purpose and going to sleep without achieving anything–like what other people call vacation or time off–makes me depressed.” —Jennifer Lawrence, Entertainment Weekly

Martin Short“I’m a writer who’s had to write out of duress. My brother-in-law, Bob Doleman is a writer, but a real writer. He wrote Willow, he wrote Far and Away. He’s always writing scripts… I write because I have an assignment. I’m going to host Saturday Night Live; I have to figure out what I’m going to do for the opening… I had a special a couple of years ago for CBC where I literally didn’t know what it was except I made the deal and then I said I gotta figure it out them. If there’s an assignment that’s the way I do it.”—Martin Short, Nerdist

Louis C. Kv“Whenever you leave behind failure that means you’re doing better. If you think everything you’ve done has been great, you’re probably dumb.” —Louis C. K., GQ

Adam Duritzg“I’m fascinated by anyone willing to obsessively strive for something… whether it’s becoming a scientist, or a ballerina, or a football player, I just think that’s really interesting to me and I identify with that because I’ve lived a lot of my life the same way.” —Adam Duritz, USA Today

RuPaul Charlesb“Progressive thinkers [are] people who think in terms of doing things in a way that is more effective.” —RuPaul Charles, WTF

Larry David“I remember when there was some interference from NBC with Seinfeld when we first started doing it, and fortunately I didn’t have a family at the time, so it was very easy for me to say to them, ‘No, I’m quitting. I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to do that and I can’t do it.’ And for me, it wasn’t a big deal to just pack up and go home… That’s the first piece of advice I’ll give anybody who wants to get into this: Don’t have a family for a while, until you’re successful, because it will just make it very hard to ever get out of things and you’ll always have to compromise.” —Larry David, NPR

Dax Shepard“People judge you by your actions, not by your intentions.” —Dax Shepard, Off Camera

Don Henley“[To trigger creativity] you do a simple task. I’ve written some of my best stuff while unloading the dishwasher because you’re distracted — and yet you’re not. I’ve read Zen masters talking about the same thing. Plus, of course, you get brownie points with your wife.” —Don Henley, Rolling Stone

Ronda Rousey“Somehow, self-deprecation is considered modesty and my confidence was considered arrogance, and it’s considered a bad thing to compliment yourself. We’re always told to compliment everyone around you and talk yourself down. I don’t know how we’re expected to look at ourselves healthily if we’re told to talk about ourselves negatively.” —Ronda Rousey, Esquire

Taylor Swift“I think the tiniest little thing can change the course of your day, which can change the course of your year, which can change who you are.” —Taylor Swift, Seventeen

 

Have a happy, healthy and productive new year! See you in 2016.

David