Failure is almost always spoken about in the past tense. That creates an artificial safety net. There isn’t true vulnerability in that. Love this article (“Opening Up About Startup Failures and Vulnerability”) in “First Round” that goes into it. Read on.
Leaders, entrepreneurs, founders and others many times open up and share their failures ONLY after they are successful. But does that really help others who are in the midst of struggling? Founder Jeff Wald shares what it means to get raw and vulnerable about failure in the “present tense.“
“CHALLENGE #1: GETTING VULNERABLE BY MAKING IT PERSONAL”
“Failure’s become trendy. We live in a culture of innovation and pushing envelopes, which requires failure,” Wald says. “But I’d draw a distinction between failure and vulnerability. We’ve confused the idea of putting failure out into the market as making yourself vulnerable, when it isn’t. Talking about how your startup didn’t work or how your product fell flat isn’t the same as digging into how that made you feel or how you failed specifically as a leader — there’s a degree of separation there. You actually need to put yourself out there.”
Here’s the difference between talking about failure and getting truly vulnerable: Vulnerability is necessarily personal while failure is not. Don’t conflate the two.
Sharing tales of startup failures, market defeats and company losses is not necessarily an exercise in true vulnerability, especially when there’s a safety net of follow-on success to fall back on. “I only got comfortable mentioning Spinback after there was a successful end to that story, when there was no downside for me,” he says. “Given where I am now, everyone automatically views the failure as a stepping stone to that success. So even though I’m more forthcoming about it, talking about the company going under doesn’t really make me vulnerable. It’s an abstract layer, a discussion in which I’m still shielded. Talking about the depression that went along with it and the inability to cope with the failure — that’s a little bit more down the road of vulnerability.”
FAILURE AS A TEACHER: TACTICS FOR EXTRACTING THE LESSONS
Failure has been an invaluable teacher for Wald, but only because he put in the time to excavate its lessons. “Failure can be something that happens to you, or it can be something you learn from. But that doesn’t happen through osmosis, it takes a lot of concentrated effort and dedication to unearth the takeaways,” he says.
For Wald, moving past the notion that his failure defined him ultimately required professional help. And something he’d once scoffed at — working with a coach. When first approached with the idea, he wasn’t too receptive. “One of the WorkMarket board members took me on a walk and said, ‘We think you need to get a coach’ and I said, ‘I think you need a coach,’” Wald says. The board member, however, made it clear that the suggestion wasn’t optional.
“At the time I was more focused on proving that I was right as opposed to being effective. I was very emotional and volatile. There were board meetings where I would sit in the corner with my arms crossed, hoodie up, and not say anything,” he says. “There were other times where I threw things — sometimes tables and chairs. I was an asshole. I wasn’t giving off the impression that I could provide the leadership that a growing and transforming company needs.”
Wald reluctantly went through the process of finding a coach, determined to do the bare minimum to satisfy his board and nothing more. “I certainly planned to blow it off,” he says. But just as Wald needed to connect with fellow founders to get a better context for his work, it took a coach who had a similar career path, and thus more relevant context, to realize how helpful an outside perspective could be. “I met with people that had clinical backgrounds in coaching, but I knew from my own makeup that I needed somebody that had sat in my chair before. I was introduced to someone who had been incredibly successful in the startup world first and then went back to become a coach.”
Elon Musk sent out an internal email to Tesla employees on what great communication looks like and the chain of communication. I find this a fascinating read and worth discussing. It’s definitely controversial and can be challenging to pull off. Here is his email:
“There are two schools of thought about how information should flow. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it enhances the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.
Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.
Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well.”
What’s the main takeaway for me: Managers shouldn’t be bottlenecks, silos and/or “information-stoppers.” Anyone should feel safe, able and comfortable reaching out to anyone else company-wide. It’s completely inefficient to always have to run something through a chain of command instead of problem-solving it yourself.
That being said…
Know your company culture (and values) and what’s acceptable (and what’s not)
Weigh the consequences of going around people
Managers can be very helpful by being a sounding board, “war-gaming” a strategy/plan, being your advocate and much more
Individuals should also go back and loop-in people because excluding them entirely causes its own set of issues
An individual’s skill level on emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork, empathy, feedback and more will go a VERY long way to help navigate what Elon Musk mentions
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In Vienna, Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world record holder, on Saturday shattered a record that had been untouchable. As a runner, this was something special for me.
I’ve run three marathons (Chicago 2018, Philadelphia 2018 and Phoenix 2019). It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and one of the most rewarding. I haven’t accomplished my goal of qualifying for Boston, though I got close in February (3:20:13, and needed 3:19:10 to qualify and run the Boston Marathon).
His feat was running a marathon (26.2 miles) under two hours.
There is A LOT of application for all us in our professional career and business, starting with his quote:
“Anything is possible.” – Eluid Kipochoge, 10/12/2019
Breaking this record was insane. Some people call him the Roger Federer or Michael Jordan of running. No one has done this on any marathon course. None of the analytic gurus or race experts thought it could be done until much later.
“Just how likely was this? When researchers from Australia crunched data from marathon world records over the past 60 years, they concluded that there was a 10 percent likelihood that the two-hour mark would be fall in May of 2032, and just a 5 percent chance it would happen by 2024.”
There are some who are criticizing this as a “fake run.” To be fair, this wasn’t a sanctioned marathon. It was a course that was flat (but not downhill) and manufactured.
But for anyone that’s run a marathon and knows what it takes to complete one, this is anything, but fake.
“In actual races, Kipchoge continued to be unmatched. He now holds the official world record for the fastest marathon with his performance at the 2018 Berlin race, when his 2:01:39 finish shaved 78 seconds off the previous mark. He followed that up by winning his fourth London Marathon in April of 2019. That put his marathon win streak at 10 straight, including an Olympic gold in 2016.”
“I wanted to run under two hours and show human beings can do a good job and lead a good life. It shows the positivity of sport,” Kipchoge said. “I want to make the sport an interesting sport whereby all the human beings can run and together we can make this world a beautiful world.”
Three main lessons I want to focus on:
First, like everything in life, there will always be critics. People will point to anything negative they can or “manufacture” their version of the truth.
Instead of replying back, Kipchoge is staying positive and focusing on how this can help others (and other runners). That’s how you can control the conversation. Otherwise, you play into your critics and get into a comparison discussion.
The key is to “swim in your lane.”
In this case, it’s comparing himself to other runners, race conditions, etc.
Second, it highlights how much WORK it takes to accomplish great feats. It took the greatest runner of all-time his entire life to be able to do this. Great feats take a long time. Professional success isn’t instant like an “ESPN highlight reel” and “social media” news feeds.
Think about the successes you are most proud of. They probably took years to accomplish when you look at your first-step and last-step.
Third, Kipchoge first attempt at sub-two hours failed. Nike made a documentary on it in 2017. It took him two-plus years to try again and be successful.
Rarely do we get this right on the first attempt. That goes for extraordinary athletes too. Failure and success are married. They are flip sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.
In interviewing more than 1,000+ successful entrepreneurs, leaders and managers for my book, Social Wealth, I asked them a question. “How many things do you get right on the first attempt?” The average response was three. That means 70% of the things very successful business people do they fail at the first time. They also said he often took them multiple failures to find the right answers.
They had to learn to pivot, learn their lessons, implement them, and then succeed.
The most forward-thinking companies understand how to leverage failure. You can read up on what Google X does to incentivize individuals and teams to failure.
Harvard has shown through research that the most successful teams report more failures than other teams. That’s one of their “secret sauces.” By communicating failure, you actually progress much, much faster. Plus, you create psychological safety in the process, which creates the optimal environment for high performance.
“Best Things in Life Are Free.” That’s the classic song in MadMen when Burt Cooper dies. It’s signifies the #1 asset and “secret sauce” that leaders typically overlook.
People value and are starving for true connection, complete trust, & teamwork with people who deeply care.
It’s that emotional bond that enables us to accomplish and create the seemingly impossible.
It’s also what brings the very best out of us individually and collectively.
People after the fact point to success as the stock price, profit, sales, etc. But that completely misses the mark. That’s the effect, not the cause.
The gold is in first creating the unbreakable foundation for “the together team.” It’s not to get distracted by process, strategy, etc. Because then leaders make lack of time excuses why they built the foundation on sand. We know what happens over time when they do (and the huge financial cost and emotional turmoil for poor teamwork).
Coco Chanel said, “The best things in life are free. The second-best things are very, very expensive.”
When leaders and managers behaviors and actions prioritize the business over the team, it requires them to pay a very expensive price.
Here’s the video from MadMen that’s worth a watch: https://lnkd.in/e8gD2HF
One of the most difficult decisions leaders and managers have to make is choosing principles (and values) over profits.
It’s rarely an easy choice nor is it black/white.
Lately, I’ve encountered several client situations where this choice had to be made over the past two weeks
1) The top salesperson didn’t feel like they had to follow the same rules as others. They were putting the company at risk with their actions. The challenge was the individual was bringing in a significant amount of revenue and had excellent relationships with clients. It came down to the company making a decision on money versus behavior.
2) Leader in the company treated a large team pretty poorly. But they were getting excellent KPIs and results. The leader didn’t want to change so the company was at a crossroads on what to do.
It may seem clear cut on what to do, but consider this. First, companies have duties to pay employees (who have families), serve their customers and other obligations. Second, principles are not always valued/shared unanimously. The definitions, understandings, and lines aren’t always clear.
But prioritizing profits can lead a company, executives, and managers to forget, push aside or change their principles. Those choices lead to negative and very expensive consequences.