Effective leaders rebound from terrible defeats by treating failure as a temporary setback. Ponder these five examples:
- Former President Jimmy Carter once challenged CEOs at a conference to consider how they would recover if the American public had fired them, as it had fired Carter by refusing to reelect him. Despite that setback, Carter led the charge for humanitarian causes and democracy around the world, eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Bernard Marcus, passed over to lead a company of home-improvement stores, felt sad and humiliated not only by his own firing but that of his top lieutenants. But a close friend and financier told him, “You have just been kicked in the ass with a golden horseshoe.” Marcus confided in his friend Sol Price, co-founder of Costco, then rallied his team and launched his vision: immense warehouses for do-ityourself home-repair enthusiasts … which became Home Depot.
- John Eyler went on to become chief executive of FAO Schwarz and Toys ‘R’ Us after being fired from a large clothing retailer on Christmas Eve. His secret: Eyler didn’t allow the firing to define him to others. If he had, Eyler says, “I might have started to doubt myself.”
- In between writing wildly popular musical scores for “On the Waterfront,” “Peter Pan” and “West Side Story,” the intensely versatile and restless musician Leonard Bernstein suffered a number of flops. But Bernstein’s collaborator, Arthur Laurents, says the only time Bernstein appeared defeated was during an illness before his death.
- The night Michael Bloomberg was fired after 15 years as a Wall Street broker, he bought his wife a sable jacket, saying, “Job or no job, we are still players.” The next morning, he settled down at his customary 7 a.m. and launched the Bloomberg media empire with his severance payment.
Bottom line: Don’t consider adversity a diversion from your path to greatness. Step back, catch your breath and grab hold of the situation, enlisting your experiences and personal relationships to help you. Once a crisis hits, it’s too late to make friends, establish professional credibility and build a reputation for integrity. It’s time to show what you’re made of.
— Adapted from “Heroic ’s Greatest Battle,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, The Future of Leadership, Jossey-Bass.
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