Occasionally in Recognize This!, I like to share advice and lessons from leaders of well known companies. Today, those lessons are on presence and failure from the CEOs of Twitter (Dick Costello) and YouSendIt (Brad Garlinghouse) as featured in articles in Inc. magazine and The New York Times, respectively.
To Lead, You Must Be Clear and Present
Before becoming a titan in the social media world, Mr. Costolo trained at famed Chicago improvisation theatre, Second City, learning this lesson:
“But I do think the theater background has helped. One of the things that I think I do well as a CEO is that I’m present. When I’m with my employees, I’m there in the moment. That’s something you learn in improv, where what’s here right now is all that matters.”
Similarly, Mr. Garlinhouse learned from leaders during his career of clarity of intention and purpose is a must for success:
“We are all products of our experiences, good and bad. Sometimes you learn as much from the negative experiences as you do from the positive. I’ve had the good fortune of working for a number of profound leaders… I was most engaged with leaders who made it clear to me what we were trying to do, and where we were trying to go. I became invested in that. With people who didn’t do that, you feel a little bit alienated because you don’t internalize what they’re saying.”
Being “in the moment” requires setting aside any number of priorities to engage directly with the people in front of you. Being clear requires ignoring perhaps dozens of important messages to focus on the most important thing you need the employees in front of you right now to understand and act upon. That kind of focus and conciseness of message helps others respond and act themselves with much more clarity of purpose.
To Lead, You Must Honestly Accept (and Perhaps Encourage) Failure
Often failure teaches more important and lasting lessons than success. Mr. Costolo shares:
“I also try to set an example by telling the staff when I screw up. That is super-important because it empowers everyone to say to me or to their manager, ‘I screwed up. What should I do?’ I want everyone on my team doing that and not covering up mistakes and not getting help they need… You need your team’s trust and you build that trust by being honest.”
Mr. Garlinghouse notes the importance of incorporating the acceptance of these learning opportunities directly into the core values of the organization:
“We rewrote the company values… And the last [value]’s about being bold. As some companies grow and develop, that instinct is almost beaten out of the system. To me, if we’re not failing a little bit, we’re not trying hard enough. I think great cultures encourage risk and are tolerant of failure. If you don’t do that, you’re going to end up with a culture that is stagnant and not thinking about the next generation of products and experiences.”
Recognizing and rewarding failure has led to some of the most celebrated innovations in industry (Post-It® Notes and WD-40 are the easy examples). Industries of all kinds are littered with stories of, “We tried to create X, but ended up with Y, which is now our biggest seller.” Those kinds of innovation require encouraging people to try, fail, try again, and ultimately succeed. That requires recognizing and rewarding failure – or, more accurately, the lessons learned from failure – on a consistent basis.
Does your organization appreciate failure? Are your leaders “present?”