When have you spoken publicly about a swift kick you got after you failed at something? Hooray for David Neeleman, Jim Donald, and Ed Zander for having the courage to talk to Fortune about their “Lessons of the Fall“. Each revealed a great deal about his fairly recent experience being canned by his board after years of success, and what led up to that event. The points I most appreciated:
- Regarding boards. Mr. Neeleman said, “… looking at the company through this little hole once a quarter at a four-hour meeting — board members don’t know that much about the company.” I have to admit that reading this line, I expected him to then nicely bash his board for bad advice. Rather he said, “I would have been much more engaged with the board… You have to give them an accurate view of what’s going on… That’s the job of the CEO, and I failed.” We often think those above us know more than we do. Often times, they don’t. They most often have more experience and can give us perspectives, ideas and judgements based on that experience. It is our job to make sure they know what is important in this specific situation, so they can help us.
- Regarding activists. Mr. Zander was asked directly about dealing with Carl Icahn, definitely a powerful activist as a shareholder. His advice: “…what decisions I had to make, what the long-term strategy was – don’t do anything for the short-term. And sometimes that’s painful for short-term shareholders.” From this, I believe Mr. Zander made the decisions he felt were right, despite the activists knowing the consequences. I respect that. In the end, it is your face you have to look at in the morning, not the activists. Listen, and then act in a way that allows you to look at yourself with pride. I think Mr. Zander did.
- Regarding Moms. Most of us have a “mom” in our lives, be it our natural mom or one that has picked us up along the way. They play important roles in keeping the right balance between incredible belief in us, and also, keeping us in check. The most real part of this interview was when Mr. Donald said the hardest and first thing to do was to call his mom and tell her after he had lost his job with Starbucks. He was upfront with her, and also reassured her that everything was fine. He faced it quickly and with grace, but made it clear that it was the toughest day he’s faced.
I respect each of these leaders more now. Thanks for showing the rest of us success in failure, along with your many successful successes.
What is on my shirt today? My favorite failure saying:
What would you do
if you knew
you could not fail?
Now, stop reading and go to it!
P.S. Some of you have asked for more on the IronMan event. First, thanks for asking. Second, there is a post on the Spreadshirt blog about it that was taken from an internal newsletter interview. Hope you enjoy it!