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Ethical Edge Letters on Integrity  

Click here for Russell Williams' bio


Tuesday, October 12, 2010
How do you think about ethical action?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Use the superstar's secret
Fail into success


“There is no victory at bargain-basement prices.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower

I love the yarn about the young, up-and-coming CEO appointed bank president. He approached the venerable chairman of the board seeking counsel on how to pursue success in his new role. “Right decisions!”

Replying, the newly minted president said, “Can you be more specific? How do I make right decisions?”

The wise old man simply replied, “Experience!”

The young CEO retorted, “That’s just the point. I don’t have all of the experience. How do I get it?”

The terse reply came, “Wrong decisions!”

Recently, I committed to join a small group of business leaders who agreed to meet monthly to explore their leadership challenges in their professional life. It became clear – very quickly – that authenticity and vulnerability were the keys to meaningful discussion. Said differently, we were together to talk about how we were learning to fail into success! These are my words, of course, to characterize the fundamental dynamic of personal and professional growth in whatever form it is packaged. Our greatest growth occurs when we wrestle with failure. It is the irritant, the grain of sand, that shapes the pearl of great price!

That doesn’t mean to "bring on the bad news,” but when bad news arrives, ethically centered leaders ask, “What do I/we do with this problem? How is it here to teach me/us?"

Those questions imply transparency in problem solving. BP and Toyota leadership shared a common breakdown with their high-profile failures. Their leadership responses to bad news were not premised on simply technological incompetence. Instead, both organizations buried their heads in communicating their corporate clarity to exercise the ethical principle of Doing The Right Thing. As a result, both organizations paid a bigger price for their corporate failures.

Individuals and organizations pursue success as they wrestle with tough experiences. Wisdom welcomes trouble with the armor of transparency. Ignorance confronts bad news with the sword of blame, to deflect ownership of responsibility for a problem. Transparency or blame: Which tool do we choose to use? Only one strategy, personally and professionally, will follow a path that ultimately leads to understanding the principle that we can fail into success.

Mission Integrity Action

I explore the Failing into Success principle knowing that professional peril is always met, instinctively, with the armor of protection. When a professionally perilous moment occurs this week, I stop and ask myself: Now that this problem has happened, what is my protection? I have two choices of protection: blame or transparency. Which choice guides me to fail into success?

Russell Williams,
founder/president
Passkeys Foundation/Ethical Edge
ethicaledge.org