Driving through setbacks
Q: What do you do when your best effort fails? BP has ended its 'Top Kill" attempt to stop the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, and will focus on containment. When a plan didn't work for you, did you quit, or keep on trying? Would you approach the issue in the same way today?
What do successful people do when their best efforts fail? They keep going, of course. We love winners. The best decision, the clever fix, the great idea -- leaders all want to do the right thing, the winning thing, but success comes in being able to keep working and moving forward even in the face of failures and setbacks.
President Franklin Roosevelt likened himself to a quarterback of a football team. He would call a play and give it a try and move on. Sometimes his ideas worked and sometimes they didn't, but his success came in the constant attempts to move the political ball forward.
Thomas Edison had thousands -- some say over 10,000 -- attempts at a light bulb before he found one that worked, but Edison did not see all those thousands of attempts as failures. Rather, he claimed they were each successful at showing him how not to build a light bulb.
I'm a baseball fan, and one of the many reasons baseball is the greatest game is that it teaches us that failure is an essential part of the game. The best teams are ones that lose a third of their games. Batters that miss the ball seven out of 10 times at the plate go to the Hall of Fame. Every day you get a new start and the chance to win again. Success can only come, therefore, from not quitting, from staying in there and pushing forward.
Applying this uplifting leadership message to BP -- in light of the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico -- is not my intention. This current oil spill seems to be due to their incompetence, criminal negligence or both, and the drive BP is now showing in their movement from one experimental fix to another reflects less leadership effectiveness and motivation to succeed and more a desperate attempt to correct a devastating and perhaps fatal error.
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