As befits such a luminary in the field of leadership and management, Warren Bennis offers up a rich vein of insights many of which are on the subject of turning adversity to advantage.  This entry is the fourth drawn from material in Bennis’ book On Becoming a Leader.  In fact, many of the comments concerned the subject that unites ‘failure’ with ‘leadership and management’ which is risk taking:

 

“Former Lucky Stores executive Don Ritchey said, ‘Even if you’re pretty analytical by nature, you have to be willing to make a decision somewhere short of certainty.  You just haven’t got the time or the resources, even if it was possible to actually get that last finite piece of information that lets you deal with certainty.  You have to get 80 to 85 percent of it and then you take your best shot and go on to something else.  That means you’ll blow it up now and then, but you also develop a momentum and a pace that gets to be exciting.”

 

“Leaders embrace error…As former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden put it, ‘Failure is not a crime.  Low aim is.’”

 

“Jim Burke actually encourages mistakes as Johnson & Johnson, saying, ‘I decided that what we needed more than anything else was a climate that would encourage people to take risks…I started with the premise that we could accomplish anything we wanted to accomplish, if the people around me were permitted to do what they wanted to do…If you believe that growth comes from risk taking, that you can’t grow without it, then it’s essential in leading people toward growth to get them to make decisions, and to make mistakes.”

 

“Burke went on to tell of his own experience with a mistake:  ‘I once developed a new product that failed badly, and General Johnson called me in, and I was sure he was going to fire me.  I had just come in late when his secretary called , and he was always in early.  I can remember walking over to his office, and I was not that upset.  I was kind of excited.  Johnson said to me, ‘I understand you lost over a million dollars.’  And I said, ‘Yes sir.  That’s correct.’  So he stood up and held out his hand.  He said, ‘I just want to congratulate you.  All business is making decision, and if you don’t make decisions, you won’t have any failures.  The hardest job I have is getting people to make decisions.  If you make that same decision wrong again, I’ll fire you.  But I hope you’ll make a lot of others, and that you’ll understand there are going to be more failures than successes.”

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