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!
5 thoughts on “Failure and success”
So good to see another post from you!
On so many levels, it is drilled into us that failure is not an option; failing is shameful. So folks rarely talk about it, and we all learn less because we risk less and we share less.
“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” is a difficult question, because it asks us to think through fear and doubt and inspires us to try anyway. I mean, if it is that important, it’s probably worth trying and failing, right?
My latest risk is renting studio space in an artist’s building here in Eastie. Art making involves willingness to fail over and over again in pursuit of answering questions; I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be to take my photography there. It’s scary, but it helps I’m not staking making a living to making it work. It feels like one of those ‘leap and the net will appear’ moments that are about making a life, not a living.
I’m sure I’ll fall down at points on this path, but I’ll learn things. Your post is a reminder to share as I do.
Jenny, this is great news! Another one of my favorite quotes on failure is “How do you know what’s right, if you don’t know what’s wrong?” I can’t wait to hear what you learn, and see what you produce!
Jana – I like that saying. It makes you really think idealistically. I think you’ll like this one. I tell this to my 15yo son. “It is not sufficient to want; you must do the things it takes to get what you want.” A little long for a shirt, but maybe I’ll make one anyway.
Vanita, that’s a great one. When I have long quotes, I play around with them awhile and see if I can get the essence, but shorter. I think for this one, I would go with “Do what it takes to get what you want”. Maybe with “what” bolded in both lines.
I operate 2 service companies and 1 manufacturing firm in the eastern United States. Our clients range from Fortune 10 to main street proprietors. Customer Service is my main focus and I evaluate service everytime I do business. Whether it is with a newstand, taxi or multi-million dollar product order, I constantly seek serice at the same level I provide.
I have to say that the service level acheived at Spreadshirt is superior. It is prompt, knowledgeable, outgoing and friendly.
I found the spreadshirt.com site by accident, used it for my daughter’s high school senior project, pressed the production limits of your operation and encountered enthusiastic responses for every inquiry made. You’re team really has accomplished something most speak of bur few ever do.
It is important to know, as a company owner, how my customers feel and thought you do as well. While your organization is at a different level than ours, I am sure we are similar when it comes to our comittment to our clients.