An Embarrassing Failure

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An Embarrassing Failure

The Idea: Dee Hock, former CEO of Visa once shared, “the problem is never how to get new thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.” I recently worked with a client that had previously enjoyed an entrepreneurial success. She had previously made a lot of money selling a business and, after sitting on the sidelines for a few years, jumped back into the game with the dream of catching lighting in a bottle once again. After a few years of “flirting” with her new venture, she quietly exited to the sidelines. It was a jarring failure. But why? We must all be adept at personal reinvention and letting go of business approaches and philosophies that no longer serve us. Past achievements rarely and decreasingly guarantee tomorrow’s success.

Estimates suggest that almost 7 of 10 strategies fail due to poor execution and more than 6 of 10 leaders stated they were unprepared after taking over a new opportunity. My client fit the profile perfectly. My client thought she was still elite but had lost her edge. She fell out of the elite class: the one in twenty companies that maintain superior performance. Why is it so hard to replicate success?

1) Too Much Success

Personal success provides us momentum, recognition, and a blueprint for scaling new ventures. Blueprints are crucial rituals, but they can’t replace context, soul, empathy and grit. Success places leaders in a bubble and removes them from the granular part of the business where competitive threats, new technologies, and new ideas reside – even when they follow “the blueprint.” When personal hunger wanes from previous success, competitors see an invitation.

When 85 percent of leadership teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy, there’s no room for ego. Yet previously successful founders often do not take the time to assess their business threats nor their customer’s evolving tastes and preferences. They think they know the customer but don’t take the time to ask the right questions. Personal pride hinders their ability to listen to others who oppose their strategy and blinds them from taking counsel on innovation, threats, and culture.

2) Lack of Healthy Flexibility and Alignment

The best organizations attract, retain and learn from their top talent while also embracing a culture of experimentation, adaptation, and change. Their mindset is not rigid (nor pre-determined), and they are thoughtful about their strategy and investments as they patiently grow their business. Organizations that successfully execute their plan limit the number of strategic initiatives they focus on, monitoring their progress daily and quickly shifting resources to seize new opportunities. A team’s ability to learn, and translate learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate advantage. There are reasons small startups can do this well: they don’t have a choice. Limit the barriers for growth by investing in and learning from every person in the organization.

3) Emotional Health

At a recent event, many leaders shared with me that they are struggling with anxiety and have lost some of the joy of their craft. That’s a recipe for failure. The research shows if we are not operating with positive, hopeful energy, we are not teachable, nor can we create. In short, when we are not inspired, our creativity falls short. And yet, I’d bet that most leaders today are experiencing a stress level of 8 out of 10. Volatility, ambiguity and the size of change is putting enormous pressure on most people. What good is a great idea drowning in poor emotional health? Assessing competitive threats, skill deficiencies, and new partnerships is rigorous work, and maintaining emotional health is crucial. What’s your process for ensuring emotional health?

Who is your consigliere, and are you open to personal advisory?

A courageous coach who asks difficult questions are critical to remaining self-aware, impassioned, and winning. The first question we must answer is, “what have I been missing,” but perhaps the better question is “what have I forgotten?” Success leaves clues: extreme listening, hiring talent, and protecting one’s own emotional health is a formula for success.

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