I am amused when all I hear leaders talk about is their successes. The triumphs they achieved paint a blueprint of what it takes to achieve greatness.
The algorithm for leadership success is almost exclusively based on what worked for them.
True, events that went the right way for someone should be dissected and analyzed. It is important to understand the specific actions taken and behaviors exhibited that yielded a productive outcome.
But the reality is that very few stand-out leaders waltz through their career to command a winner’s platform.
Successful leaders suffer personal setbacks.
My career produced disappointments that foreshadowed future successes.
This is another “bump in the night” for me.
It was one of the most stressful and painful periods in my career; the telecom business was morphing rapidly and we had to choose our way at a breathtaking pace. Change and chaos were the conditions of the day.
I was president of the advanced communications business with a communications company in Canada at the time we merged with our neighboring provincial communications company to become a major national telecom player.
The chief executive officer of the newly merged company (who I had no relationship with), struck a task force to develop a new corporate strategy. I was asked if I had a data communications expert on my old team who could play a role in charting a growth course for the new company emphasizing Internet and data rather than traditional voice services.
I said yes, and assigned one of my direct reports who was an undeniable data expert and was perfect for the task. It was the right call on my part.
The board not only supported the task force’s strategic plan; my direct report was rewarded by being appointed president of the data and Internet organization in the new company.
Ouch! I was suddenly out of the executive leadership team and ended up reporting to a previous peer of mine who now reported to the CEO.
All those around me counseled me to leave the organization because I was overlooked. “To hell with them!” was the advice I received from almost everyone, including my closest friends.
I didn’t take their advice for I knew something about this individual that the CEO and others didn’t. Even though this individual had strong data expertise, he had limited leadership capabilities which meant that sooner or later he could run into problems – a gamble on my part, but I felt worth the chance.
I stayed, was a good lieutenant and waited for the meltdown.
It happened within a year. I was asked to replace this individual and re-assume my position as president and join the executive leadership team.
Lessons learned that made me a survivor leader:
– Always do what’s right for the organization even though it could place you at personal risk;
– Shut up and suck it up when you get punched in the gut;
– Take a long-term view when making a decision in a emotionally charged situation;
– Going against popular advice is often the best;
– Keep working hard in the face of adversity and show ’em what you got;
– Be wary of advice from those close to you. Sometimes their judgement is more clouded by emotion than yours is.
Surviving in the leadership jungle usually means taking a hit at some point.
Make a thoughtful reasoned call because a knee-jerk emotional one could rob you of future opportunities.