Leadership Lessons from Failure: The Peril of Wearing Blinders to the Bitter End

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There have recently been many headlines appearing on companies that started off extraordinarily promising in terms of a captivating vision –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 pitch, meaningful purpose, etc... With many, it seems that they can do no wrong and people start believing everything they say and do is the holy grail…. until it isn’t. When you look underneath the covers, some of these organizations’ leaders were extraordinarily secretive. Only the top people could ever get access to what was really going on. This secrecy eventually makes people suspicious and that tends to be their undoing.

Why do these companies fall apart? 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. They’ll become less open to feedback from customers, peers, and from employees down below them.

Then comes the worst part of all: They’re so blindly driven to make their direction work that they start making bad choices. Those bad choices then compound with one right on top of another and things very quickly spin out of control to the point of where it all comes crashing down.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. When leaders fail – and we all inevitably do – it can come in big, very public situations where they totally fall on their face. Sometimes this needs to happen for some leaders before they’re willing to say, “Maybe I don’t know everything and there is value in other people’s perspectives.” Fortunately, better later than never in this case and it proves to be the breaking point that precipitates a change.

Ego, the allure of success, and that white-hot spotlight are all powerful influences and many leaders lose their way. If they’re gaining praise for one direction of the company, what happens if that direction isn’t the right way after all? I suspect that this is part of what went wrong with many of the organizations we see in the headlines. Deep down, they know that they are taking the company down a dark path but perhaps feel trapped by the acclaim they had already received—or unsure of what move to make next.

Stop, Reflect, And Refocus

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 simply stop. Stop, take a step back, and give themselves the time and space to reflect.  Every leader must do this, no matter how hard it is to get out of the day to day. Reflection is imperative.  If in the reflection they determine they are going down the wrong path, then they must take the right steps to get back on course.  Making mistakes is part of leadership, but wearing blinders until the bitter end is unnecessary.  This leadership behavior destroys companies and lives.   Leaders: be transparent, admit your mistakes, get the team involved, and on-board and take the steps to right the ship. #bethechangeleader