Posts Tagged ‘failure’

The Leadership Olympics: A Gold Medal Model

September 24, 2012

 

 

 

Do you know who taught U.S. Senator John  McCain “a thing or two about courage?”

A woman, who last week, was the most recent recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal.

In the misty vapors of big politics, the Medal is an undeniable signal of approval.

Manage Fear

McCain, who spent six horrible years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, quoted Aung San Suu Kyi’s famous dictum in an emotional tribute to her:” It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Since the American Revolution, our Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions that will endure long past the achievement.The Medal requires an Act of Congress. It honors an individual – although not necessarily a US citizen.

Price Tag

The Gold Medal has often been awarded to those who serve the common good. Past winners include Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Jonas Salk and Rosa Parks. Notably, selfless heroism reflects the pinnacle of leadership but it always has a price tag.

In 1988, the brutal rule of a strongman who murdered protesters launched Myanmar’s difficult struggle for freedom. A remarkable woman, Suu Kyi committed more than two decades to challenging a repressive regime. She endured 15 years of house arrest in a shunning which completely restricted her speech and physical mobility. Although offered freedom in exchange for exile, she would not leave her people and their dreams of democracy.

Growth & Sustainability

In organizations and in communities, deficits in leadership affect sustainability.  First, because of intricate and growing interdependencies, weak or corrupt leaders have intolerable implications beyond their own sphere of influence. Second, because none of us has a grip on the macro trends that will deliver challenges we don’t anticipate. What is sure? The costs of poor leadership are failure, implosion, and decay while others, in a competitive world, make progress.

Aung San Suu Kyi gave up decades of her life for others. The NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently “few leaders now dare to throw caution and polls to the wind and tell people the truth about anything hard or controversial…Many won’t even give up a news cycle.”  His analysis underscores the patterns of political behavior that are deeply true and relevant: it is the fear of losing power that corrupts. He, like many others, thinks leaders are at their best when they dare to lead without fearing politics.

Courage Wins

So, how do any of us “honor The Lady from Myanmar in a way that really matters?”  Friedman suggests imitation. If you were fearless, what would you do?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Mistakes Smart People Make

October 2, 2011

Twyla Tharp

“The best failures are the private ones…” writes Twyla Tharp, renowned choreographer, in Creative Habit.

Our work places and our communities, however, are public social spaces. While learners don’t seek failure it can be an enormous source of new knowledge. A willingness to fail is certainly an essential element of learning.

Three Common Blunders

The human brain (and ego) is a remarkable asset, but it can be an obstacle to success. Sociologists, psychotherapists and anthropologists offer some vital insights to manager-leaders about the brain and behavior. There are three common mistakes smart people make:

Denial – a refusal to acknowledge an error.

Loss Chasing – the inability to “make peace” with an error which causes more damage in a pattern of additional mis-steps.

Hedonic Edits – revisions that either convince ourselves errors don’t matter or reinterpret errors as success.

We’re all guilty of these mistakes – sometimes. Great leaders have found intentional ways to minimize or even eliminate these common human blunders. Denial is avoided more often when we can separate errors from our self-worth. Loss-chasing is reduced if there’s self-awareness and adaptation. Hedonic edits occur less frequently if we  face the mirror with   clear recall and brutal candor. Humility is an antidote for all these quirks.

Get & Give

Regrettably, our capacity to revise our internal personal stories often becomes part of a public profile. Humans are social and so we massage, arrange and position material to manage image – for ourselves and others. While ruthless review, reflection and action towards self improvement is constructive, it may not be enough. Our inner critic can mislead or fail us.

For these reasons, honest advice has huge value.  Actively seek feedback from trusted resources. Tharp’s advice is “Challenge a status quo of your own making…All you need is people with good judgment in other parts of their lives who care about you and will give you honest opinion without strings.” In turn, after asking permission, offer caring, thoughtful feedback to help others develop.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is  an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com


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