Don’t fear the F word

Failure-alMost CEOs fear failure like the plague. Failure to a CEO means a dip in stock price, a termination note from the board of directors and, worst of all, a huge hit to our hero's ego.

But, more and more, I'm seeing CEOs step up and admit failure. And, I'm seeing more and more CEOs inspiring employees to try and try again AND hire individuals who have failed in the past, and aren't afraid to admit it.

Here are two cases in point:

– Harold Hambrose, founder and CEO of Electronic Ink, a global specialist in user-interface design for business (and Peppercomm client), said he couldn't be happier when “…the designers and researchers at my company…abandon what seems like a promising line of inquiry to pursue an entirely different direction or when they jettison the fifth version of a schematic to create something better.”

– Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, says he asks recruits to “name the biggest, most glorious mistake they've had in their business careers, including all the gory details.” If respondents can't think of any, Szaky shows them the door.

Failure is key to success. Creating a culture that supports risk-taking, failing and learning from failure, is key to attracting and retaining great people.

I'd like to think Peppercomm's willingness to embrace past mistakes and current challenges is a key reason why Crain's New York Business just named us one of the region's top 50 workplaces. It's also why Inc. Magazine named us a best workplaces finalist last year.

We not only encourage mistakes, we own up to the ones we make. So, when I wrote a blog that offended the sensitivities of an uptight client who subsequently fired us, I accepted responsibility and told the entire staff. And, when Ed created a separate dotcom business in 2000 that employed 26 people and went belly-up within a few months' time, he relayed the sad tale to the entire staff.

I'm with Hambrose and Szaky. If you're not interested in risk-taking and failing, then I'm probably not interested in you. Clocking-in at 9am and doing only what's expected of you may work in some cultures and in some industries, but not mine.

In PR, the top executives are constantly pushing the envelope. And, more often than not, they're failing. But, the very best ones own up to the failures, learn from them and move on.

Now, if only our elected officials could do the same.

One thought on “Don’t fear the F word

  1. Amen, Brother Steve. I know that many leaders believe that acknowledging failure to the team is a sign of weakness. In reality, it’s a sign of strength, and makes them more attractive to their followers.