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LEADERSHIP IS A PROCESS OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE, WHICH MAXIMISES THE EFFORTS OF OTHERS TOWARDS THE ACHIEVEMENT OF A SHARED GOAL.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The Drucker Lectures: Essential Lessons on Management, Society and Economy focuses largely on how to effectively and ethically manage large institutions by striking a balance between their individual role with that of the common good. This is a timely, instructive, and prescient book particularly relevant for managers and leaders today.
While success is surely sweeter than failure, it seems failure is a far better teacher, and organisations that fail spectacularly often flourish more in the long run, according to a new study by Vinit Desai, assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado Denver Business School.
Desai's research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, focused on companies and organisations that launch satellites, rockets and shuttles into space – an arena where failures are high profile and hard to conceal.
Working with Peter Madsen, assistant professor at BYU School of Management, Desai found that organisations not only learned more from failure than success, they retained that knowledge longer.
"We found that the knowledge gained from success was often fleeting while knowledge from failure stuck around for years," he said. "But there is a tendency in organisations to ignore failure or try not to focus on it. Managers may fire people or turn over the entire workforce while they should be treating the failure as a learning opportunity."
The researchers said they discovered little "significant organisational learning from success" but added "we do not discount the possibility that it may occur in other settings."
Desai compared the flights of the space shuttle Atlantis and the Challenger. During the 2002 Atlantis flight, a piece of insulation broke off and damaged the left solid rocket booster but did not impede the mission or the programme. There was little follow-up or investigation.
The Challenger was launched next and another piece of insulation broke off. This time the shuttle and its seven-person crew were destroyed.
The disaster prompted the suspension of shuttle flights and led to a major investigation resulting in 29 recommended changes to prevent future calamities.
The difference in response in the two cases, Desai said, came down to this: The Atlantis was considered a success and the Challenger a failure.
"Whenever you have a failure it causes a company to search for solutions and when you search for solutions it puts you as an executive in a different mindset, a more open mindset," said Desai.
He said the airline industry is one sector of the economy that has learned from failures, at least when it comes to safety.
"Despite crowded skies, airlines are incredibly reliable. The number of failures is miniscule," he said. "And past research has shown that older airlines, those with more experience in failure, have a lower number of accidents."
Desai doesn't recommend seeking out failure in order to learn. Instead, he advised organisations to analyse small failures and near misses to glean useful information rather than wait for major failures.
"The most significant implication of this study…is that organisational leaders should neither ignore failures nor stigmatise those involved with them," he concluded in the June edition of the Academy of Management Journal, "rather leaders should treat failures as invaluable learning opportunities, encouraging the open sharing of information about them."
Numerous researchers now agree with the extraordinary Anders Ericsson, arguably the world's leading researcher into high performance, that 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate’ practice is the minimum necessary to achieve expertise in any complex domain.
It’s not inherited talent which determines how good we become at something, but rather how hard we're willing to work.
There is something wonderfully empowering about this. It suggests we have remarkable capacity to influence our own outcomes. But that's also daunting. One of Ericsson's central findings is that practice is not only the most important ingredient in achieving excellence, but also the most difficult and the least intrinsically enjoyable.
If you want to be really good at something, it's going to involve relentlessly pushing past your comfort zone, along with frustration, struggle, setbacks and failures. That's true as long as you want to continue to improve, or even maintain a high level of excellence. The reward is that being really good at something you've earned through your own hard work can be immensely satisfying.
Here are our six keys to achieving excellence:
Pursue what you love. Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance.
Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers, Ericsson and others have found, delay gratification and take on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. That's when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.
Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods of no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break. Ninety minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring the highest level of focus to any given activity. The evidence is equally strong that great performers practice no more than 4 ½ hours a day.
Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments. Too much feedback, too continuously, however, can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with learning.
Take regular renewal breaks. Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolise and embed learning. It's also during rest that the right hemisphere becomes more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs.
Ritualise practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated - none of us have very much of it. The best way to insure you'll take on difficult tasks is to ritualise them — build specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.