On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

Fear of Failure

[In response to this week's On Leadership question, "Fear Factor"]

Not so much fear of the individual, but fear of failure should motivate the group.

Fear of the leader worked well in ancient times -- Machiavelli gives us examples galore of successful, gruesome rulers -- and still works in tyrannical states today (see Saddam's rule.)

But in American institutions -- whether government with President Obama, or business with the CEO -- fear of an individual doesn't instill that much fear.

There just isn't much that guy can do to you. Sure, getting nixed for the Easter egg roll, not watching the Superbowl in the White House theater, or even getting no invitation to the State Dinner when your colleagues do -- all this can indeed disappoint.

Losing your job, the biggest thing that can happen, would do more than disappoint. But that hardly ever happens. Members of Congress aren't dependent on the president for their job. And so few members of any administration ever get fired that defying the president isn't even a calculated risk. It's like no risk.

Nonetheless, fear of the mission failing should motivate the team. Each member should understand what's at stake -- something grander, higher than personal interest -- and make a maximum effort to realize that mission.

In this way, binding the team members together, and binding those members to the higher mission, should be the pathway to success. Fear of failing to achieve this should be motivation plenty.

By Ken Adelman

 |  August 18, 2009; 12:52 PM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: 'Rahm-ing' It Through | Next: Not a Dictatorship


Please report offensive comments below.

Washington Post is bringing out all the right wingers to channel their propaganda. Adelman has over the years proven himself to be a veritable liar. Now he is proclaiming to have an expertise in health care. Where has he been all these years. Shame on Washington Post that is loosing all resemblance to a credible newspaper. Its credibility is at par with that of FOX news.

Posted by: kevin1231 | August 21, 2009 1:42 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Fear of failure is a mixed bag. It often leads to a zero-defect mentality, which provides an incentive to cover-up mistakes. We've seen this in government for too long, and this needs to end.

We need to get to a point where instead of instilling fear of failure, we provide the freedom to fail. This is not to encourage failure. Rather, it is to encourage innovation.

3-M used to have an award for the best idea that failed. Because of this, people tried new ideas. After all, you never know where the next Post-It note will come from.

Posted by: mandog | August 20, 2009 9:09 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The Presidency is no place for on-the-job leadership training. On the other hand, what is the alternative?

I'd imagine the majority of Americans would like to repair the health-care mess. In fact, I am sure of this.

Maybe citizens weren't listening, but if you ask me, the case has not been made for the President's plan. Make the case first; then present the plan. Presumption always favors the status-quo, and Obama nor El Rushbo are winning; the status-quo is ...

Posted by: socks2 | August 20, 2009 5:50 PM
Report Offensive Comment

From the AEI to the Washington Post's editorial page, lol

Isn't Ken Adelman yet another AEI neo-con Pooh-Bah who was on the airwaves constantly, campaigning night and day, for the invasion of Iraq?
'It'll be a walk in the park' 'over before you know it' type of misleading (cough, criminal lying is more like it) propaganda?

Ironical that an up-to-his-ears in the blood American and Iraqi innocents, warmonger, has been requested to write upon of all issues, health and wellness ... Oh I see ....... he is now fomenting against the president's health initiative for all Americans. Always for war, always against the well being of Americans. Quelle surprise!

Why would that be I wonder? Just why does he hate his own country so much?

God forbid we should have universal medical care the same as other countries such as England, Germany, France, Australia and Canada and the state of Israel and less war.

Posted by: Minka | August 20, 2009 9:24 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company