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Leadership Insights:

Leadership Tips: Simple, on-the-job self improvement ideas to strengthen your leadership skills

Stress: A dozen strategies to reduce on-the-job stress

Leadership Articles: Leadership and team development insights by Jeff Appelquist

Time Management: Strategies and activities to help business leaders manage their time

Leadership Styles: Overview of the frameworks, theories, and styles of leadership

Leadership Power: Six types of power for business leaders

Delegation: Understanding the skill of delegating effectively

Decision Making: Understanding sound decision making

Personalized Growth Plan: Design and begin a personalized leadership growth plan

Communication Tips: Leaders know how to communicate effectively

The Power of Praise: Meaningful praise is a powerful and important motivator

Understanding Feedback: There are five main categories of feedback

 Leadership Responsibilities: A team leader's responsibilities to his or her team

Leader/Team Tension: Leader behavior that can weaken team cohesiveness

Management Framework: A process outline for achieving results

Strategic Planning: Determine where your team has been and where it wants to be

Talent Development: Guidelines for developing the talents of your team members

Engagement Misconceptions: Twelve misconceptions about employee engagement

High-Power Leadership: When does leadership power become counterproductive

Succession Planning: Guidelines for a successful succession program


Articles by Jeff Appelquist

  Wisdom is Not Enough

  Teams Need Common Purpose 

  Seek Honest Feedback 

  Appreciate the Power of Words

  Great Teams Never Give Up

  Share Knowledge and Information In All Directions

Actively Manage Your Career

Lead Courageously in a Challenging New World

  Collaborate Effectively in Decision Making

  Simplify and Prioritize

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

  Succeed in Learning from Failure


Jeff Appelquist is the founder and president of Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars which provides individual leadership and team development training.  Jeff is a former Marine officer, practicing attorney, and corporate executive.  His website is www.blueknightseminars.com and he can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.

Buy Jeff's new book:  Sacred Ground.  Jeff offers powerful leadership lessons through an  intriguing historical look at Gettysburg and The Little Bighorn


Wisdom is Not Enough  

I love history.  I am also an entrepreneur at heart.  Recently, I combined my passions by developing a business that uses battlefields as classrooms for corporate leaders.  Since the fall of 2007 I have taken twelve groups of approximately 180 managers to the Gettysburg and Little Bighorn national parks. We have had incredible experiences together while studying these momentous events through the lens of individual leadership and team dynamics. I am continually struck by the power of history to teach.  The learning from these battles is amazingly timely and highly relevant for leaders right now, especially in the deeply troubled times in which we live.

     The challenges in history were the same as business leaders face today:  How do we manage through profound change?  How can we motivate our people in chaotic circumstances?  How do we make good decisions despite imperfect information?  How can we communicate more effectively?  How do we see things from another person's point of view?  How can we understand another culture in a global economy?  How will we win or even just survive in a highly competitive and uncertain world?

     One of the most dramatic leadership lessons that repeatedly presents itself is the idea that "wisdom is not enough."

     Author and humorist Douglas Adams said:  "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."  How true.  When faced with problems and challenges, no matter how complicated and unfamiliar, we all have a strong tendency to rely on skills, abilities and methodologies that have proven successful for us in the past.  But sole reliance on personal experience can be a severely limiting factor and can hinder the new insights that are frequently necessary to achieve complex problem solving. 

     George Armstrong Custer had seen intense combat in the Civil War and was a veteran Indian fighter after the war.  Everything in Custer's experience taught him that swift offensive action resulted in victory.  He had led charge after charge at the head of his troops.  He survived all of this violent action over many years virtually untouched, despite having eleven horses shot out from underneath him. 

     Further, Custer had never seen his Plains Indians opponents do anything other than scatter when attacked directly by a body of U.S. soldiers.  Time and again he had known smaller numbers of white cavalry and infantry, and even scouts and civilians, to defeat larger Native American forces.  Finally, Custer was a well-trained soldier and practitioner of the military arts.  The conventional tactical wisdom of the day was that to split a combat unit, allowing one contingent to hold the enemy while the other moved around his flank, might be risky but could potentially provide a big payoff.

     Given all this, Custer's decision-making at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana on June 25, 1876, was not surprising.  He had received warnings from his frightened scouts about the immense size of the Native American village they confronted.  Nevertheless, he moved quickly into action, confident in his own charmed existence, leading in the saddle and from the front.  Despite his numerically superior enemy, he divided his forces into multiple wings in hopes of moving around and entrapping the village.  To what was undoubtedly his shock and dismay, the angry young manhood of the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne nations turned and fought.  Every man in Custer's immediate command perished.

     For Custer, what might have been we will never know.  Could he have risen above conventional wisdom- indeed his own wisdom based on hard-won personal experience- to think differently about the extraordinary situation he faced?  Could he have decided differently based on his own studies of military history (he was a great reader and student of his profession)?  Could he have behaved differently out of sage advice from people who knew what they were talking about- his scouts- but whose counsel he disregarded?  In all probability, old mental models blocked the possibility of new insights.  For his poor choices, disaster befell the team Custer was entrusted to lead.

     Simply put, wisdom is not enough.  Most of the time our lifelong learning serves us well (don't put your hand on that hot stovetop or you will feel pain).  The challenge for today's leaders is, first, to recognize and acknowledge situations that may on their surface appear familiar, but are in reality new and more complicated than what has come before.  Next, the trick is to marshal resources and elevate understanding.  This can come through reading and study, discussion with knowledgeable people, feedback from diverse and unbiased sources, or development of rigorous processes.  The goal, in the end, is to achieve better awareness and the higher level of decision-making capability necessary to make good choices in tough and unique scenarios.

Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Teams Need Common Purpose  

     Teams without common purpose are rudderless and have no hope of achieving at a high level over time.  If you are a leader of people ask yourself, does my team have a common purpose?  If you are unsure or the answer is no, find a common purpose and communicate it soon.

     What is common purpose?  Regardless of the verbiage used- vision, mission, strategy, identity, purpose- no team sustains effective performance without the benefit of a single compelling idea that drives it forward. 

     During his 20-year tenure as CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch- like him or not- dramatically demonstrated the importance of common purpose. When Welch took over in 1981 GE contained 42 strategic business units:  appliances, lighting, transportation, motors, medical materials, industrial electronics, aerospace, financial services, etc.

     The profound challenge for Welch became how to develop a common vision for such seemingly disparate disciplines.  He said, "We were in so many different businesses.  In those days, if you were in a business that was profitable, that was good enough reason to stay in it."

     Welch believed that strategy is not a lengthy action plan.  It is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances. He said: "The winners in this… environment will be those who… insist upon being number one or number two in every business they are in- the number one or number two leanest, lowest-cost, worldwide producers of quality goods and services..."

     Welch also said, "... where we are not number one or number two… we have got to ask ourselves [management guru] Peter Drucker's very tough question: 'If you weren't already in the business, would you enter it today?'  And if the answer is no, face into that second difficult question: 'What are you going to do about it?'"  Welch's simple ultimatum was that those businesses would be fixed, sold, or closed.    

     Welch did his best to convey the idea:  "... I repeated the No. 1 or No. 2 message over and over again until I nearly gagged on the words... The organization had to see every management action aligned with the vision." 

     But while "One or two, fix, sell, or close" passed the simplicity test, and most employees understood and agreed to it intellectually, the emotional leap was a more difficult process.  Welch spent a good deal of time in his first five years earning the nickname "Neutron Jack" (he left buildings intact but the people were gone).  One quarter of GE's employees left the company during this period, 118,000 total.  As Welch himself admitted, "The turmoil, angst, and confusion were everywhere."

     On the other hand, under Welch's leadership GE's revenues improved from $27 billion to $130 billion.  Market value jumped from $12 billion to $410 billion.  Welch presided over more than 600 acquisitions and aggressively pushed GE to enter newly emerging markets. 

     By the end of Welch's reign GE was the largest and most valuable company in the world.  In 1999 Welch was named "Manager of the 20th Century" by Fortune magazine.  Many of the business methodologies and leadership concepts he espoused continue to be emulated by corporate executives the world over.

     I can speak to the importance of this fundamental lesson from personal experience.  In a 25-year career that has spanned military service, legal practice, and business, I have observed teams without a common purpose.  I have been a member of teams without a common purpose.  I have been the leader- shame on me- of teams without a common purpose.  Those teams do not work.

     In contrast, teams that know with confidence what they are about can become juggernauts.  They are led by men and women who make a point of finding a common purpose and sticking with it. 

     Perhaps my favorite and most memorable personal example of a common purpose was the creed that bound me and my fellow infantry Marines: "To seek out, close with, and destroy our enemy, through fire and maneuver."  No ambiguity there.  Not coincidentally, the U. S. Marine Corps is by far and away the best team with which I have ever been associated.        

     Common purpose doesn't have to be complex or blindingly original.  To the contrary, it should be simple and reflect common sense.  It doesn't have to come from on high, although it might.  It can come from you. Not everyone has to agree, and there may be pain in the implementation, but everyone must understand the common purpose.

     Use your own business savvy in the discovery process.  Read and study.  Consult with your team and other valued advisors.  Take advantage of both internal and external resources. 

     The goal is to find a common purpose that is compelling and makes sense.  Then you must communicate until you nearly "gag on the words."  Finally, follow through to make sure that your team acts to carry out that purpose.  You may not become "Manager of the Century," but you will see improved business results. 

Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Seek Honest Feedback

     Most of us intellectually grasp the importance for success in business of giving and receiving honest feedback.  Why do so few of us do it well?  Because it is difficult.

     Many of us are averse to hurting someone's feelings and so are reluctant to deliver the full truth as we see it.  We are also generally loathe to receive feedback ourselves.  It can be embarrassing and unpleasant.  How many people (both supervisors and employees) actually enjoy the annual review process, which is all about feedback?  Not many that I have met. 

     With all that said, I am still struck at how often in my ten-year career in human resources I came across even very senior leaders who would not give straightforward feedback when they should have, nor were they at all interested in what anyone had to say about them either.  This fundamental unwillingness to tell and/or hear the truth costs organizations dearly over time.    

     Meg Whitman, during her decade-long run as CEO of online trading behemoth eBay, provided a dramatic example of a leader who not only sought honest feedback, but could not function without it.  She listened carefully, mostly to her customers but also to anyone else who offered a useful point of view, and used what she learned to create a unique and powerful success story.    

     Whitman came aboard as CEO in March of 1998.  Any number of skeptics felt that she was not qualified to run eBay for lack of technical expertise.  She quickly demonstrated her willingness to roll up her sleeves and learn.  In mid-1999, the eBay site crashed for 22 hours, and weeks of uncertainty and instability followed.  Whitman sat through endless technical discussions to get at root causes, pulled all-nighters with the team and, when she did sleep, did so on a cot in the office.  The problems were fixed and  Meg Whitman impressed everyone, including her detractors, by acknowledging what she did not know and working to educate herself.

     Whitman was also quick to credit eBay's success to its enormous community of buyers and sellers, who in essence run the business by determining which transactions will take place, and by managing inventory and shipping.  The power of the business model, said Whitman, "is in the community of users who have built eBay."

     Whitman spent considerable time monitoring feedback from buyers and sellers by perusing discussion boards.  She said, "The great thing about running this company is that you know immediately what your customers think."  She organized annual member conferences that brought thousands of eBay customers together to swap ideas and learn how to more effectively use the site.  She spent time during these events on the floor interacting with as many customers as possible. 

     Numerous sellers have been able to make a handsome living trading on eBay full-time, and Whitman enjoyed interacting with them.  Whitman declared, "Actually, most of these sellers know more about eBay than [eBay] employees.  They use it every single day.  They're the experts... The businesses that have been built on this platform are remarkable."

     Whitman oversaw explosive expansion at eBay.  In 2002, for example, revenues rose 62% to $1.1 billion, with an earnings jump of 172% to $249 million.  By the time Whitman resigned her position in 2008, eBay had 15,000 employees, just under $8 billion in revenue, and 300 million registered users.  Meg Whitman was honored as Fortune magazine's most powerful woman in business in both 2004 and 2005.  Much of what she accomplished can be attributed to her desire to hear what people were telling her, learn from it, and take appropriate action based on that new knowledge. 

     As a leader, if you arrive at a point where you lose interest in receiving feedback- assuming you had interest in the first place- or you say you want feedback but create an environment that is clearly not safe for providing it, you cannot succeed over the long haul.

     Good leaders foster a culture in which it is okay to speak up, even if the message might be painful.  The very best leaders not only accept feedback but actively, even manically, seek it out.  They could not function without the information they receive, virtually always from multiple sources.  It is like the air they breathe.  They use that data to drive change in themselves and their organizations. 

     Meg Whitman is a shining example of just such a leader.  She constantly sifted through countless bits of information, especially from her customers, the buyers and sellers who were foundational to eBay's success.  She used what she learned to create one of corporate America's all-time growth stories.

     Two final questions are critical:  1)  Do you have someone in your professional life- at least one person- who pushes you and provides you with genuinely honest feedback?  If yes, good for you;  2)  If the answer is no, why not and what will you do about it? 

Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Appreciate the Power of Words

     As business leaders we often fail to fully appreciate the ability we possess, for both good and ill, to influence people and situations through the simple choice of the words we use.  Our teams are listening closely to what we say.  The very best communicators select their words carefully and work hard to ensure that followers understand their meaning.  This necessity to speak and write clearly is a truly basic leadership objective, but ever so difficult to consistently execute.

     Last week I was honored to take a group of executives through a leadership seminar at the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania.  At the end of our day-long tour of that sacred place, one of the participants read Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address near the spot where Lincoln delivered it at the National Cemetery in November 1863.  As she read that beautiful little speech- only 272 words long- I was reminded of the power of an idea well expressed to move people to think differently and, sometimes, change the world.

     Lincoln had less than a year of formal schooling but he read constantly from an early age in an effort to educate himself.  He became a master communicator whose innate yet carefully honed abilities as a story-teller and humorist enabled him to reach and teach ordinary people in unforgettable fashion.  His deep study of the Holy Bible and Shakespeare influenced the lovely cadences of his speeches. 

     Lincoln's masterpiece, the Gettysburg Address, forever changed the way Americans think of themselves.  He explained the meaning of the sacrifice of so many lives on the battlefield just a few months prior.  He asserted the Declaration of Independence and its central idea- equality- as a matter of founding law.  The Civil War, Lincoln told us, was the great struggle around and testing of this new principle.  As historian Gary Wills said, "By accepting the Gettysburg Address, its concept of a single people dedicated to a proposition, we have been changed.  Because of it, we live in a different America."

     Few people, even among great historical figures, possess Abraham Lincoln's gift for language.  Of speeches that compare with the Gettysburg Address, for me, only the inspirational words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963,  telling his countrymen: "I have a dream today…" 

     So what does that leave for those of us who are mere mortals?   For those of us who often get tangled in our own syntax?  For those of us who dread having to put our thoughts down on paper? 

     There is a popular historical myth that Lincoln penned the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope as he rode the train from Washington D.C. to Pennsylvania.  To the contrary, the speech was carefully composed beforehand at the White House.  He wrote and rewrote, revising the speech even as late as the morning it was to be delivered.  Lincoln was incredibly particular in his choice of words, and he worked hard to get the message just right.  He knew that his followers, and even future generations, would be paying close attention.  In that way, he was a teacher to all of us who would aspire to be leaders who communicate well.

     With written communication, take the time to be thoughtful.  Who is your intended audience?  What message do you want to convey?  How can you write that piece- whether a short e-mail or a full-blown speech- in the simplest, most concise way, yet still get your point across (remember Lincoln's 272 words)?

       Nothing is more frustrating for a team of people than to read something their boss or colleague has produced that causes confusion.  Credibility is lost and time is wasted.  Proofread what you write.  Better yet, have someone that you trust check your work.  Be open to suggestions and make changes accordingly.  Like Lincoln did, practice your writing.  As with any other skill, writing ability can be developed over time with effort, repetition and feedback.

     The spoken word can prove more difficult because we frequently don't have time to be as reflective as we might with a writing assignment.  We are often called upon to give an opinion quickly without the benefit of all the information we need to make a judgment.  Still, the best communicators are thoughtful in speech as well.  Take a pause before you speak.  Collect your thoughts.  Consider the audience.  It's okay to acknowledge what you don't know and take time to do some research.  Gather data.  Ask good questions.  Select your words.  Deliver them well.  Confirm understanding.

     As always, the old saying holds true: "Talk is cheap, but whisky costs money."  Words without appropriate and consistent actions to back them up are mere words.  With that said, leadership begins with words.  Especially in the difficult economic environment in which we all live and work, anxious business teams are keenly in tune with what leadership is saying.  So take the opportunity to be thoughtful with your words.  The future of your organization may depend on it. 

Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Great Teams Never Give Up

     Great teams never give up.  In business, as in sports or any other human endeavor, the very best teams simply refuse to be defeated.

     I was reminded of this fact several years ago when I had the honor to coach my daughter Lucia and her 3rd and 4th grade peers in basketball.  Basketball, like business, is a fast-paced, rough and tumble game that involves lots of strategy and, in order to win, requires high skill and determination from its participants.  At least at the highest levels of the sport, this is true.

     But for Luci and her pals practices consisted mostly of social time, laughing, doing each other's hair, taking  bathroom breaks  together en masse, and some basketball.  I tried to teach basic fundamentals, with a focus on teamwork.  They took a vote and decided to call themselves the "Hot Peppers."  I was not  crazy about this team name, but went along.  Did I mention the laughter? 

     This was a middling team, at best.  During the regular season we might have won a couple more games than we lost.  No one  predicted greatness for this team.

     But in the annual year-end tournament that determines the overall league champion, something came over the Peppers.  They pulled together as a unit and demonstrated, almost heroically, that great teams never give up.

     There was a team that had dominated the schedule all year long.  This team had several girls who were big, strong and skilled.  This team had gone undefeated in the regular season.  Somehow the Peppers got through the preliminary rounds to face this team in the championship game. 

     I knew we were up against it, but wasn't sure if the girls knew.  I did not want to invoke the Holy Bible and cite David and Goliath but, trust me, my thoughts went there.  Instead, I recalled the recent Super Bowl, where a lowly underdog had defeated the mighty favorite. 

     "Did you girls see the Super Bowl?"  "Yes."  "Who won?"  "The team that wasn't supposed to."  "Right."

     The Peppers went out and fought hard.  They were behind most of the game.  But suddenly, the other team started to play not to lose.  They sat back on their heels.   They made mistakes.  They even panicked a bit near the end.  The Peppers came back. 

     Pretty soon, with no time left, one of our little gals stepped up to the free throw line, score tied 15-15, with a chance to win the game.  First shot missed.  Second shot hit the back rim, bounced straight up, and came down through the hoop.  Pandemonium erupted.  The Peppers had triumphed.  Dairy Queen beckoned.                

     What are the ingredients that go into creating a team with this kind of capability?  First, leadership.  And not just leadership of the obvious kind, as important as that is, from the head coach or the team leader in business.  Leadership can come from any person, at any time.  Our final couple of baskets came from one of our best athletes, who had played a quiet game up to that point.  Isn't it amazing how your top performers always seem to come through, demonstrating leadership in the clutch?

     The second ingredient is skill.  Several  girls on the Peppers, silliness aside, could put the rock in the hole when they felt like it. This is where hard work, repetition, and practice together as  a unit come in.  These are essential fundamentals in business, just as they are in sports.

     Finally, there is the most important ingredient.  This one is the most difficult to describe.  Call it team chemistry, call it trust and confidence, call it swagger, call it what you will.  A truly great team believes in itself in a way that is palpable.  You can see it in the way such a team carries itself, interacts together and ultimately performs.           

     We are in difficult times right now, but teams that possess that magical something will survive the trial.  They will emerge stronger than they were before.

     What will your team do in this economy?  Will you play not to lose?  Will you let events dictate what happens to you?  Will you sit back?  Will panic set in?  Or will you look each other confidently in  the eye, take control, count on your leaders, work hard together, trust each other, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?  This decision cannot be postponed. 

          In 1941 during the throes of World War Two, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the students at Harrow School, his alma mater, outside London.  He said, "Never give in.  Never give in.  Never, never, never, never- in nothing great or small, large or petty- never give in…"  That was good advice for young people during dark days, but isn't it interesting how young people can sometimes teach us too?

     Occasionally, when I face a moment of truth in today's tumultuous world I think back, smile, and whisper to myself, "Remember the Peppers.  Never give up."

Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Share Knowledge and Information In All Directions

      I spoke with an executive recently who told me about the corporate culture in his company.  Secrecy, withholding critical information, and inconsistent communication were common practice.  My friend was frustrated to no end.  Organizations that fail to share important knowledge and information up, down and across struggle in the long run.

       No organization achieves perfection with regard to information sharing, because human judgment is involved.  Obviously, some data is not appropriate for wide distribution.  Sometimes, confidentiality is a necessity.  To communicate well requires time, focus and effort, which are often in short supply. 

     Nevertheless some companies, such as Pixar Animation Studios, excel as learning organizations that openly and honestly share knowledge.  Pixar is one of the most successful film production companies of all time.  The "fraternity of geeks" who work at Pixar succeeded in transforming hand-drawn cel animation to computer-generated 3-D graphics.  The string of movies thus created, starting with Toy Story in 1995, have been hugely popular and critically acclaimed.

     Through it all, a corporate culture that highly values information-sharing at every level within the organization has enabled Pixar to continue to produce one hit after another.    

     The September 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review cited several reasons for Pixar's sustained creative success.  Among other things, the company espouses a philosophy that "we are smarter than me."  The company believes that everyone needs to be involved in the creative process and, to that end, communication throughout all levels is imperative. 

     Next, Pixar works to hire good people, to support them, and to foster an environment where trust and respect are a given.  More specifically, those good people are encouraged to take risks, knowing that they will inevitably make mistakes.  Talented people will learn from failures and use their hard-earned discoveries to move forward more effectively on subsequent projects. 

     Finally, Pixar's culture is flat, collegial and extremely peer-oriented.  Hierarchies are out, everyone is treated with respect, and both honest feedback and careful listening are encouraged and rewarded.

     One very specific and practical example of the way information-sharing plays itself out is Pixar University.  Every employee is encouraged to spend as many as four hours a week furthering his/her education.  Pixar University offers more than a hundred courses, from filmmaking and writing to sculpture, painting and drawing. 

     Randy Nelson, dean of Pixar University, says, "We offer the equivalent of an undergraduate education in fine arts and the art of filmmaking."  And this is not just fun time or a way to avoid work, but rather a critical job expectation.  Nelson says, "This is part of everyone's work.  We're all filmmakers here.  We all have access to the same curriculum.  In class, people from every level sit right next to our directors and the president of the company."

     Pixar University epitomizes the concept of broad knowledge-sharing.  Nelson asserts, "The skills we develop are skills we need everywhere in the organization.  Why teach drawing to accountants?  Because drawing class doesn't just teach people to draw.  It teaches them to be more observant.  There's no company on earth that wouldn't benefit from having people become more observant." 

     At Pixar University, employees are also encouraged to try new things, take risks, and learn from mistakes.  The University crest says in Latin: "Alienus Non Diutius," which translates to "alone no longer."  Says Nelson, "It's the heart of our model, giving people opportunities to fail together and to recover from mistakes together."    

     In addition to excellent financial results, Pixar has earned countless industry accolades for its work, including 22 Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, and three Grammys.  Every Pixar film produced since 2001 was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar and four of those movies, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and WALL-E, came home with the little golden statuette.

     Pixar Animation Studios provides an incredibly compelling example of an organization that sees the critical value in gathering information from a diverse variety of sources and then sharing it openly up, down and across the company.  Those individuals who hold information closely would not survive in such a culture.  Pixar's reputation as a place where creative genius thrives is indeed well-earned.      

     Companies like Pixar that set themselves up as learning organizations and follow through on that commitment tend to be successful.  Other organizations--  where secrecy, lack of clarity, and generally poor communication all around are the rule-- suffer in the end.

     Where does your organization or team sit on the communication spectrum?  Do you openly share important knowledge and information in all directions?  Does your culture foster honest feedback and careful listening?  What do you personally contribute from a communication standpoint?   

     A human or animal organism needs circulation of blood and nutrients to all parts of the body in order to have full physical health.  Similarly, freely flowing knowledge and information are the "lifeblood" of any organization that hopes to achieve robust business outcomes.

Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Actively Manage Your Career 


In a recent interview in the New York Times, Ford Motor Company President and CEO Alan Mulally was asked to provide his best career advice. He responded, "Don't manage your career. Think about just exceeding expectations in every job you do, continually ask for feedback on how you can do a better job, and the world will beat down your door to ask you to do more…"

I respectfully disagree. Exceeding expectations and seeking feedback are important but, in my experience, success and advancement come most often to those individuals who actively manage their careers.

I spent more than a decade in human resources at Target and Best Buy. I can't count the number of times that people came to me frustrated over their perceived lack of career progress. The common theme sounded like this: "I work really hard. Feedback is positive. Performance reviews are good. Yet no one seems to notice. The best opportunities go to others."

What I frequently found was that many of these individuals simply assumed that if they "exceeded expectations," someone would notice and ensure that their career moved forward. Also, some of these folks could not answer the most fundamental question, What do I want to do with my career?

There may be lots of people- your supervisor, colleagues, human resource professionals, mentors- who think highly of you and will work to help you advance in your career. But, trust me, no one is going to do it for you. You must take personal responsibility for actively managing your own career.

And if you are going to manage your career, you need to know to what end. Ask yourself some tough questions, and be honest about the answers: Am I happy in my current job? Is it challenging and rewarding? Do I have room to grow, or have I hit a plateau? Where would I like to be one year, two years, or five years from now? Backing up from those goals, what affirmative steps must I take now to get there? In short, you need to be able to clearly answer the question, What do I want to do with my career?

Don't measure your progress or self-worth solely by money, title, power or prestige. It is great to be ambitious. We need people in corporate America like Alan Mulally, who want to rise to the top of their organizations. But remember, just one person gets to be CEO. For the rest of us, at some point, we top out. If you are only seeking more money or the next title, you will be forever unhappy, because someone else will always be richer or outrank you.

Consider other measures of success. Is your work interesting? Are your skills put to the test? Are you learning new things? Do you receive recognition for your efforts? Do you believe in the mission of your company? Are you adding not just to the bottom line for your organization, but creating value for society as a whole? Does your work match with your personal values? Consider the definition of career success as broadly as you can, with a focus on those internal measures of satisfaction that are personally important to you.

I do agree with Alan Mulally on the criticality of feedback. In order to successfully manage your career, you need to be in a continuous cycle of seeking, receiving, absorbing, and adjusting to constant feedback. Seek feedback from as many different sources as possible, not just from your boss. Find those one or two really valuable people who will unfailingly give you honest feedback on how you are doing. Listen carefully to what they say. Insist on specifics.

If you are told you lack good communication skills, ask for details. Do you need to work on written skills? Spoken skills? Ask for examples of when you have fallen short and suggestions on how to improve.

Make changes based on the feedback you receive. Demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to learn and grow. Put together a personal development plan with clear milestones and share it with your boss and other trusted advisors. Work that plan with seriousness of purpose. Adjust the plan when appropriate as your career moves forward.

Finally, don't think of leadership or advancement in your career as simply a matter of managing a checklist, like a boy or girl scout completing activities to earn a merit badge. Sometimes people would say to me, "I've done the three things you told me to do… now I'm ready to be promoted, right?" The very fact that they asked that question told me they weren't ready. Think of leadership and your career not in terms of finishing a to-do list, but as an ongoing journey. A sometimes complex and difficult journey.

Managing one's career is challenging, even in the best of times. These days, when so many of us are in crisis-mode, reacting to rather than shaping the reality around us, career management frequently goes to the back burner. Don't let it.
Remember these suggestions:

• Take responsibility for actively managing your own career.
• Develop a clear picture of what you want to do with your career.
• Measure success broadly, with a focus on intrinsic factors that are important to you.
• Seek specific, actionable feedback and respond appropriately.
• Put together a personal development plan and work it with energy.
• Consider leadership and career progress as a journey.

With these tips in mind, go forth and have a great career. Enjoy the adventure.


Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  


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Lead Courageously in a Challenging New World 


There are some positive indicators that we are currently rebounding from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The stock market is thriving. Manufacturing activity is increasing. Retail sales are up. With that said, unemployment now exceeds ten percent. Many experts predict the recovery will be slow and arduous at best. We all hope for a better future. But I think we also know- regardless of how the future takes shape- things will never be the same again. To quote the great philosopher Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz, "We are not in Kansas anymore." For business leaders, the critical new skill set will be the ability to lead courageously in a challenging new world.

Survival in a deeply recessionary economy and building for a healthy future requires leaders to take on two important tasks. The first involves stabilizing the current situation. The second involves adapting to a new and uncertain future and seizing opportunity wherever it presents itself.

The old adage "when you are up to your [posterior] in alligators, it's difficult to remember the original objective was to drain the pond," has come to my mind often during these trying times. The down economy has very understandably caused businesses to focus attention on the immediate task of survival. Research shows that both people and organizations are far more highly motivated to take action by the possibility of loss than by the prospect of gain.

Indeed, it makes sense during tough times to take every reasonable step to protect the existing business. Is your financial house in order? Are there opportunities to trim costs or otherwise gain efficiencies? Are you staffed and organized correctly? Does your product mix make sense? Is your product or service priced right? Are there opportunities to divest? These are all important questions that should already have been part of a rigorous review of your current business model.

The risk in undergoing this kind of crisis-mode analysis involves the inclination to hunker down and wait out the storm once near-term steps are in place. All of us as leaders have a tendency to rely on skills and abilities that have worked for us in the past. We look for recognizable patterns so we can respond to them just as we have successfully done before. We want to be able to reassure our teams that things will return to normal soon. But there is great danger in this mindset because the future that we face will be unlike anything any of us have ever previously experienced.

The businesses that will go beyond mere survival and thrive into the future are those that aggressively seize opportunity. They see lean times not as a disaster to endure, but as a challenge to overcome. During the last recession, approximately one in three industry leaders lost their perch at the top of their fields as savvy competitors maneuvered skillfully during the downturn. Those who follow bicycle racing know that in an event such as the Tour de France, the ultimate winner frequently overtakes the leaders during the mountain phase- the toughest part of the contest.

Do you have an opportunity to rethink your business model? In the recession of the early 1990's, IBM experienced its first revenue decline in over fifty years. Losses mounted year over year. CEO Louis Gerstner took time during the downturn to seriously reconsider a business model based on sales of mainframe computers. IBM shifted its focus from hardware into computer services and solutions, and it flourished.

Are you continuing to think about the future by investing in research and development? In 2001, the beginning of a two-year recessionary period, Apple Computer experienced a revenue decline of 33 percent. Yet Apple bravely chose to increase R&D expenditures by 13 percent, and continued to maintain that level of investment throughout the downward cycle. Such innovative technologies as the iTunes music store and software, the iPod Mini, and the iPod Photo were developed during this period. Rapid and healthy growth resulted for Apple.

Are you continuing to invest in your people? Remember, even during bad times, your top performers have other options. Do you have the right players in place? Are you encouraging them in their development? Do they see a future with your organization? I believe that one of the most short-sighted moves that many companies make when the going gets tough is to immediately cut training and development dollars.

Finally, these pragmatic steps of rethinking your business model, investing in R&D, and taking care of your people should not just be one-time responses to a crisis, but rather an ongoing part of how you do business. In a Harvard Business Review article from 2003, business authors Gary Hamel and Liisa Valikangas state that the strongest businesses are those that continuously "reinvent business models and strategies as circumstances change," rather than just making singular adjustments in reaction to an emergency. The authors argue that those companies that work incrementally to try numerous different ideas on a micro scale- while involving many people in the discovery process- succeed over time. Businesses "should steer clear of grand, imperial strategies and devote themselves instead to launching a swarm of low-risk experiments."

No matter how we cut it, the future is daunting and unknowable. But it is also richly abundant with opportunity. Those leaders who work hard to strengthen their organizations in the short run and then courageously look to the future will end up on top of the mountain when the economy improves. A continuous cycle of scrutinizing the business model, investing in lots of new ideas, and developing people will bring success in a challenging new world. 

Jeff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Collaborate Effectively In Decision Making

The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle ever fought in the western hemisphere and a critical turning point in the American Civil War. The second day of the battle, July 2, 1863, was one of the bloodiest in American history, with approximately 20,000 combined casualties (killed, wounded, missing, or captured). As evening slowly gave way to night at the end of that terrible day, General George Gordon Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, called his entire leadership team together at his headquarters for a council of war. Meade knew in his own mind the outcome he desired on the battle's third day, but he also wanted to hear from his commanders and to achieve consensus regarding the Union strategy for the endgame. Meade instinctively understood the critical need, at this dramatic moment in time, to collaborate effectively in decision making.

Meade and his counterpart, the extremely capable Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, were locked in mortal combat. Several weeks earlier Lee had begun an invasion of Northern territory and the two mighty armies had met accidentally, but with unspeakable fury, at the little crossroads borough of Gettysburg in south central Pennsylvania. By the end of the second day, after much desperate fighting, the armies lay in stalemate, watching each other warily across contested ground like two wounded but still very dangerous animals.

General Meade had established his headquarters in a tiny white farmhouse owned by the widow Lydia Leister. Earlier on July 2 he had wired his superiors in Washington D.C. to let them know it was his intention to "remain in my present position tomorrow…" Nevertheless, that night he gathered his top generals (eleven in all) to listen to their assessment of the situation. They assembled in a room no larger than twelve by twelve feet, illuminated by a single candle, and which was soon filled with a thick cloud of cigar smoke.

The discussion began informally, and turned to the issues of the dire condition of the army and the lack of supplies. Meade was quiet, offering only an occasional comment, and intent on hearing what his team had to say before offering his own judgment. Finally, with Meade's concurrence, his chief of staff proposed that the group vote on three critical questions: 1. Should the army remain in its present position? 2. If the army remains, should it attack or await the enemy's attack? 3. If the decision is to await attack, how long should it wait? After much give and take, the generals voted unanimously to stay in their present position, await attack, and to wait for not much longer than a day.

One of the participants, General John Gibbon, wrote afterward, "I recollect there was great good feeling amongst the Corp Commanders at their agreeing so unanimously, and Gen. Meade announced, in a decided manner, 'Such then is the decision.'" The generals left the meeting clear in the understanding of their mission and united in their common purpose to defeat the enemy the next day, which they succeeded in doing. This stroke of genius-- attaining clarity and consensus during a critical phase of the fight-- on the part of George Meade may have (more than anything else he did over the three days) won the Battle of Gettysburg for the North.

What can modern-day business leaders learn from the historical example of Meade's collaborative decision making? First, Meade recognized the criticality of pulling his team together for a face-to-face consultation. Sometimes, there is simply no substitute for a meeting in person, and skilled leaders understand precisely when there is a need to bring everyone into the same room. Ironically, Meade's adversary General Lee did not gather his commanding generals together for a war council at any point during the battle, and a serious lack of coordination resulted.

Next, Meade initiated a process that was perceived by all of the participants as fair. While it is true that Meade had already indicated to higher command his preference for remaining in place, he did not disclose his point of view to those reporting to him. Instead, he remained quiet and listened respectfully with genuine interest to what the others had to say. Each person had a chance to weigh in to the discussion and to vote on a particular outcome. When the members of a team feel that they have been given ample opportunity to express their points of view and to influence their leader, even if they disagree with the final decision, they are much more inclined to buy into the ultimate direction.

Finally, Meade's council of war provided absolute clarity to every individual involved as to what was expected of him for the next day. The fact that the decisions made were unanimous helped in achieving this effect but, even if there had been disagreement, the rationale for the chosen decision was clear and unambiguous.

On the morning of July 3, after the famous meeting but before the decisive combat that would bring victory to his forces, Meade penned a hurried letter to his wife: "Dearest love, All well and going on well with the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking and we completely repulsing them-- both armies shattered…. Army in fine spirits and every one determined to do or die." This determination to defeat the Confederate enemy at all costs was in large part achieved as a result of George Meade's intuitive comprehension of the importance of effective collaboration when making a critical decision. 


eff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Simplify and Prioritize

I know an executive who has a forty-page list of personal action items. Not forty items, total, on his to-do list. Forty pages, single-spaced, in a bound notebook. I have had professional dealings with this leader and I can tell you from personal experience that while he is a terribly busy man with a lot to do, he gets absolutely nothing done. He does not follow up on the most basic tasks, like returning phone calls or responding to e-mails. He cannot be counted on to deliver an outcome on anything. He tries to do everything, yet he accomplishes nothing. He is in a position of real power and his organization suffers greatly for his complete lack of focus. He has failed to adhere to that most fundamental yet important leadership principle: simplify and prioritize.

Simplifying and prioritizing starts with each of us as individual leaders. If we don't know what we are trying to accomplish in our own jobs, then there is no chance that the teams we lead will be any better focused.

In a recent interview the CEO of Continental Airlines, Lawrence Kellner, was asked how he manages his time. He replied, "I used to have a long, long to-do list. At the end of the day, I'd see which ones got done. Then five more notes might be on my desk, and I'd throw them on the list. I realized I was often doing what came to me as opposed to what was really important. So I started saying, 'O.K., what are the three most important things I need to do today?' And if No. 1 is a 12-hour task, then I'll spend the day working on it. I need to decide what's the most value-added thing I can do." In short, Kellner succeeded in taking charge of his professional life by proactively prioritizing his efforts, rather than simply reacting to whatever was in front of him. How well do you practice this skill as a leader?

Once we have our own priorities in order, the next task involves making sure our organizations and teams know what their priorities need to be. Again, Kellner is a model of good leadership in this regard. He says, "When I became CEO, I started ending each of my three most important meetings each month by saying, 'O.K., here are the three most important things we're doing. Here are the three priorities." His followers at Continental were no doubt grateful to him for explaining in clear and concrete terms exactly what he expected of them.

Great leaders instinctively understand that their teams are looking to them to identify just a small handful of key objectives, three or four at the most, and to communicate those objectives effectively. William Green is the chairman and chief executive of Accenture, the global consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Green relates a story about how he was able to simplify things for a group of brand new employees: "I once sat through a three-day training session for new managers. I counted 68 things we told them they needed to do to be successful. And I got up to close the session, and I said there are three things that matter. The first is competence… The second one is confidence… The third thing is caring…" From 68 things to three. Again, this group of Accenture managers surely appreciated their chief's willingness to help them prioritize in their jobs, and in their leadership journey.

Cristobal Conde is the president and CEO of SunGuard, a software and IT services company, and he was notorious early in his career for micromanaging and making every decision himself. He soon realized the futility of this approach. He recalls, "That was in the early 90s, and that experience convinced me that the right way to do it is the opposite, which is to hold people accountable, to really restrict the number of things you say to them, and to decide the one or two things that are most important. You have to do that consistently over a year before you start having an impact." Indeed, it takes time to hammer a message home, but if it is simple and consistent, people will eventually respond and deliver.

Alan Mulally has been the president and chief executive of Ford Motor since 2006, and has led that company to extraordinary levels of achievement and value creation in an incredibly challenging time for the auto industry. Mulally is another leader who stays focused on a few key objectives. He says, "I've moved to a place where I'm really focused on four things. I pay attention to everything, but there are some things that are very unique to what I need to do as a leader. One of them is this process of connecting what we're doing to the outside world… A second focus for me is: What business are we in? What are we going to focus on? The third one is balancing the near term with the longer term… And then I really focus on values and standards… I'm the one who needs to focus on those four things, because if I do that, the entire team will have an understanding of them."

Albert Einstein once said, "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius- and a lot of courage- to move in the opposite direction." The best leaders have an uncanny ability to simplify what is complex. They know what is truly important and what is not. They can identify the most critical challenges before them and prioritize those challenges so as to maximize their precious time. And they communicate these simple priorities to their team, again and again, in a way that helps people know how to direct their own efforts and to achieve results. Great leaders are incredibly adept at simplifying and prioritizing.


Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Drew Gilpin Faust is a noted American historian who specializes in the history of the South and, in particular, the changing roles of women during the period before and during the Civil War. She taught for many years at the University of Pennsylvania and is the award-winning author of several books. In 2001 she became the head of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and, in 2007, she was named the first female president of Harvard University.

In a recent interview in the New York Times, Gilpin Faust describes the leadership lessons she learned in transitioning from her role as a scholar to that of an administrator with responsibility for a team of people and a large, complex organization. She says, "They have to do with understanding the context in which you are leading. Universities have enormously distributed authority and many different sorts of constituencies, all of whom have a stake in that institution… I spend a huge amount of time reaching out to people, either literally or digitally, and with alumni networks all over the world, so that I can connect. Leadership by walking around- that's a digital space now, it's virtual space."

Good communication is the key to effective performance, innovation, and change in any organization. And the message must be hammered home repeatedly. Gilpin Faust says, "When I came to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, many people wanted to help. An alum who was an expert in turnarounds said, 'One lesson about change in any organization- communicate, communicate, communicate.'"

Susan Docherty, who heads up the United States sales, service, and marketing team at General Motors, echoes Gilpin Faust's point of view concerning uniformity and persistence in communication. Docherty says in a recent interview, "Whether you have a really small team or a really big team, communication needs to be at the forefront. It needs to be simple. It needs to be consistent. And even when you're tired of what the message is, you need to do it again and again and again, because everybody comes to the table with a different perspective and a different experience. The same words mean different things to different people."

The global consulting firm Watson Wyatt reports in a survey just released for 2009-10 that companies that communicate effectively provided a 47% higher return to their shareholders over the five-year period from 2004 to 2009. The report states, "In challenging times, companies are forced to make tough decisions and deliver difficult messages. But our study found that high-performing companies don't shy away from tough messages. They make communication a priority and use every tool available to reach out to a workforce in desperate need of information and direction."

Specifically, the Watson Wyatt study reveals that the companies that communicate best are very courageous in their employee communication. Watson Wyatt refers to this skill as "telling it like it is." Instead of shying away from difficult messages in an attempt to protect their people, these companies train and encourage their managers to focus on constant, effective communication, especially during times of uncertainty. "Highly effective communicators," says Watson Wyatt, "say more, not less." The study shows that when people are told what they need to know, even if the news is bad, their performance actually improves.

The best companies also promote innovation through their communication plans by encouraging employees to think creatively about work processes, job tasks, and productivity measures. Even the communication plans themselves reflect an innovative spirit. They use multiple channels such as intranet updates, wiki, blogs, and e-mail, as well as face-to-face dialogue where possible. The report asserts, "… taking the initiative to try new tools to reach a culturally diverse and geographically dispersed audience is the hallmark of effective communication." This is the essence of "leadership by walking around in a virtual space" that Drew Gilpin Faust describes.

The highest performing companies are disciplined in their approach to communication. They set direction and measure results to ensure that employees not only know what they are supposed to be doing, but why. They make sure that employees are given good direction, but also helpful context. The result is a more engaged team. Outcomes, both good and bad, are measured closely and shared with the team.

Finally, the Watson Wyatt report emphasizes that a critical component of any solid communication plan involves listening to employees. Good communication ensures alignment, but if companies are not confirming understanding and listening to feedback, then alignment can be compromised.

Clearly, those organizations- whether they are a major university or a small business- that develop simple, consistent messages and repeat them constantly through multiple channels perform best over time. Gilpin Faust sums up the point well when she talks about her most critical lesson in communication: "Someone would say, 'Well, you've never talked about X,' and I'd say, 'I've talked about it here, here, and here. I talk about that all the time. Then I realize that all the time isn't enough. You have to do 'all the time and more.'"

In other words, communicate, communicate, communicate.


eff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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Succeed In Learning From Failure

In the early 1920s a young artist and animator who lived in Kansas City set out to form his own company, which would specialize in producing cartoons. He hired his first employee and secured a deal with a local theater owner to air the cartoons, which were called "Newman Laugh-O-Grams." The cartoons became popular in the local area, and soon the budding entrepreneur signed a stable of animators to help his studio, also called Laugh-O-Gram, to increase production. Unfortunately, the tiny enterprise became top-heavy with salaries and began to lose money. The fledgling tycoon had to shut down the business and declare bankruptcy. This man went on to become one of the most successful and revered business leaders in American history, but he never forgot the pain of his initial setback, or what he learned. In later years, as he looked back on the experience, he said, "It is important to have one good hard failure when you are young." His name was Walt Disney.

When I was a young man in my early thirties, I quit the practice of law to go into business for myself. I formed an S Corporation, opened a fast-food franchise, and had to rapidly educate myself as to the ins-and-outs of Small Business 101. It was an incredible learning experience for me and, long hours aside, I loved the freedom of being my own boss. But despite my best efforts, I could not generate sufficient revenue to cover my costs. I stayed in business for about six months and then, reluctantly, was forced to close up shop. I had a wife and small child who were dependent on me. I had lost all our savings and was bankrupt. I was unemployed for seven months. There was no sugarcoating it: I had failed miserably, in a way that had never happened to me before. Nevertheless, this incredibly difficult passage from almost twenty years ago shaped who I am in ways that still resonate to this day. In its way, it was a much more significant and life-changing event for me than any of my triumphs have ever been. Painful though it was, like Walt Disney, I succeeded in learning from failure.

University of Virginia psychology professor Jonathan Haidt writes in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, "People need adversity, setbacks and perhaps even trauma to reach the highest levels of strength and fulfillment. Suffering is not always all bad for all people. There is usually some good mixed in with the bad, and those who find it have found something precious: a key to moral and spiritual development." In his book The Pursuit of Perfect, Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar argues that individuals who risk failure actually tend to be happier than those who are averse to challenge and change. Ben-Shahar says, "Successful people are necessarily people who have failed many times, and therefore are 'better' at failing than others. When we practice failure, we realize the pain associated with fear of failure is often greater than the pain associated with actual failures."

The roster of well-known people who have achieved at a high level in their lives but who have also learned from failure along the way is endless. Former President Bill Clinton says, "When I was defeated for reelection as governor in 1980, there didn't seem to be much future for me in politics. I was probably the youngest ex-governor in American history. But if I hadn't been defeated, I probably never would have become president. It was a near-death experience, but it forced me to be more sensitive and to understand that if people think you've stopped listening, you're sunk." Author J.K. Rowling, who penned the mega-best-selling Harry Potter series of books, was at one time alone, unemployed, and "as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless." But for Rowling, "Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began directing all of my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me."

Indeed, these days, many companies actually look to actively recruit workers who have experienced and overcome adversity in their personal or professional life. Meridee Moore is the founder of Watershed Asset Management, a $2 billion hedge fund in San Francisco. When asked in a recent interview about how she hires, Moore responded, "… if the person has had a rough patch in the past, that's usually good… if you've ever had a setback and come back from it, I think it helps you make better decisions. There's nothing better for sharpening your ability to predict outcomes than living through some period where things went wrong. You've learned that no matter how smart you are and how hard you work, you have to anticipate things that can go against you."

The Great Recession has been a huge challenge for all of us. Many of us have experienced defeats and even real suffering, both in our jobs and on the home front. But there can be redemption. The phoenix can rise again from the ashes. For me, out of my spectacular failure, I learned many things. I learned to take new challenges seriously, and never to assume that skills and abilities that have pulled me through in the past will necessarily pull me through the next time. I learned to worry only about those things that I can control, and the main thing I control on a daily basis is my attitude. I get to choose how I want to be. I learned to appreciate my many blessings, especially family and friends. And I learned a whole lot about humility.

Professor Ben-Shahar of Harvard summarizes the idea well, "The ones who will emerge stronger from [adversity]- the resilient ones- are those who learn to find the opportunity in every setback." In short, they are the people who succeed in learning from failure. 


eff Appelquist, Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars,  www.blueknightseminars.com. He can be reached at jeff.appelquist@blueknightseminars.com.  

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