Acceptable vs unacceptable failures
Question: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week confronted a dilemma faced by many leaders: whether to step aside when things go wrong. What should be the criteria guiding such a decision? Did Pelosi make the right choice? Should she have offered to resign but let her caucus make the decision? What about Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid?
I have never held a job where things haven't gone wrong! This topic reminds me of one of my most favorite leadership tenets: failure tolerance. There are certain types and levels of failure a leader can learn from. Failure from incompetence is intolerable, but mistakes will certainly be made. The discernment between acceptable and unacceptable levels of failure lies in the values you proclaim and live by. At West Point, we focus on becoming leaders of character. If your personal values are aligned with those of your organization, you will know how much and what type of failure is too much. If you hold true to your values and have the courage to accept responsibility for your actions, you'll know when you need to step aside. At the end of the day, we must act in the best interest of our own character, our organization and those whom we serve. -Cadet Christina Tamayo
When is it a leader's duty to step aside? I offer three fundamental questions leaders should consider.
First, am I leading the organization in the right direction? If a fresh perspective or tactic is suitable within the values and goals a leader has established for the organization, then a leader probably doesn't need to step aside. But if a leader "can't get there from here" within their established vision and goals, then a leader's duty is to step aside. In any case the values, vision and philosophy of both the leader and the organization must be congruent.
Second, do I have what it takes to right the ship? If leaders don't have the capacity to learn and improve, then they have a duty to step aside. Learning from your mistakes, publicly, takes confidence and courage. Quitting doesn't take either.
Finally, are my personal shortcomings so severe that my reputation will impede the organization's ability to move forward? There may be situations where a leader has all the tools for self improvement and their values, vision and philosophy are congruent with those of the organization, yet they personally become a distraction to progress. In this case a selfless leader will step aside, which takes courage too. -MAJ Donnie LaGrange
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
West Point Cadets
November 9, 2010; 2:41 PM ET
Category: Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Failures , Government leadership , Leadership development , Leadership weaknesses , Making mistakes , Military Leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:
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Posted by: jbeeler | November 10, 2010 8:00 AM
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