How Managers Can Turn Failures Into Successes

Although there are real, external reasons for managerial difficulty ? including massive reorganization after takeovers and the realities of discrimination due to age, sex, and race ? managers fail most often for reasons they themselves create.

These reasons include ignoring the application of emotional intelligence, failure to recognize individual motivation to be effective, and a failure to adapt to change and rebound from setbacks. With only slight modifications, the context of the following remedies can be changed to any executive function.

Excessive Narcissism and Self-Interest

Individuals with an excessive need for positive feedback and a preoccupation with themselves quickly alienate colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates. Others with strong narcissistic needs may require the enthusiasm and idealization of others. If you fall into this category, you may try the following:

? Reframe statements about personal glory and accomplishment as if they are organizational accomplishments.

? Use the words we and us, instead of personal worlds like I and me. Caution: for this to work, the change in terminology has to reflect a change in attitude. You have to become an authentic team player.

? Instead of demanding recognition and affirmation from colleagues and subordinates, develop other ways to address these needs. Other groups and endeavors outside your professional arena, as well as your family, may better meet these needs. If expanding your scope isn't enough, seek therapy.

? You must be able to be wrong all alone and be successful as part of a team.

? There is a thin line between self-absorbed narcissism and charismatic leadership, often bridged by thinking systemically of the group or organization rather than "I", and supplying to others the very feedback most wanted by yourself: affirmation, recognition, praise.

Inability to Get Along with Subordinates

Authoritarian leaders may have an especially difficult time aspiring others, creating a sense of loyalty, and establishing cohesive teamwork. Many experts in the field view poor interpersonal skills as the single most frequent factor in the failure of managers, especially early in their career. This is a crucial area. Some guidelines to follow are:

? Develop the ability to listen well. Invite feedback and criticism, then listen carefully, attentively, without interruption, and without the need to feel defensive.

? Remain empathically attuned to subordinates. Listen to them, to their experiences, and realize how they may hear what you have to say. Anything you say is already in the context of a superior-subordinate relationship, thus, they may be inclined to hear it more critically or harshly than you intend.

? View conflict and differences of opinion as something welcome and inevitable rather than as something bad that must be quashed.

? Involve subordinates in decisions to develop a we and us feeling. For group cohesiveness, they need to consider themselves part of the group effort. Elicit new ideas and cooperation.

? Give them credit for their work, and subordinate credit for yourself to the credit of the group.

Fear of Action and Fear of Failure

An emotionally isolated leader may retreat just when he or she most needs to engage. Fearing failure or significant criticism, such a leader may retreat, giving the appearance of lack of commitment. An underlying assumption is that inaction prevents mistakes in management. In actuality, this practice may hasten the leader's downfall.

? Accumulate as much data as possible, but plan a time when data collection will stop and action will begin. Some individuals will study something so exhaustively that they bypass deadlines needed for action.

? Separate, as much as possible, personal assumptions and fears of failure from the organizational task at hand. Recognize that inaction is a form of failure; know when action is required. A ship is safe in a harbor, but ships aren't made to sit in the harbors.

? At times, it may be useful to consult with someone outside the system who can be objective and observant.

Failure to Adapt to Change and Rebound from Setbacks

Life is a developmental process; so is the life of an organization. A once-successful management style or strategy needs to evolve as an organization grows. Flexibility of thought and action is especially important for managers in restructured or acquired companies. It is essential that they not be rigid or cling to old management styles in a rapidly changing environment.

? Be sure your management style and approach fit with the organizational task and your level of responsibility. For example, the individual who moves from a creative or entrepreneurial task to the management of people doing similar tasks needs to adopt a different approach to work.

? Acknowledge failure, and request understanding and help in rebounding from it.

? Do not become defensive at criticism or feedback, but welcome it; cooperative input is vital in a rapidly changing environment or company. Don't try to conceal failure or blame it on others. The way one handles failure is an issue that may make or break an advancing career.

Creative Criticism

If you want to know how you're doing, you might ask subordinates to evaluate your performance in an anonymous questionnaire. You may be uncomfortable with such direct and explicit feedback, but it can be immensely useful. Subordinates are uniquely situated to experience, observe, and evaluate their bosses.

The areas of evaluation can include leadership, organization, crisis management, facilitation of cohesiveness, and even inspiration. Since the evaluations are confidential and anonymous and since no pay raise or promotion depends on them, you might not wish to share them with anyone else.

Being able to give such feedback, knowing that a superior is interested and that their comments may be effective helps workers feel more involved in their company. Problem Solving

A systematic method for reviewing and solving problems can be remembered by the acronym SOLVE:

S State the area of the problem as specifically as possible.

O Outline the problem in as much detail as possible: where, when, how, who.

L List alternatives. Write down the first ten solutions that come to mind without analyzing them. Then select the three best solutions, which are the ones that recognize your unique abilities, do not create limitations, and that organize a focus.

V Visualize the consequences. This visualization should incorporate a good bit of your interests, abilities, personality style, and values with your problem-solving approach. The alternative that feels best ? the most comfortable ? may be the best. Plan a strategy to achieve the specific goal. Gather information from experts if necessary, but develop your own plan.

E Evaluate the results after a full effort at problem solving. If there has been a failure, evaluate the most common causes of failure: a wrong fit between work and abilities, interests, and personality style; too scattered a focus; an absence of commitment; discomfort about being in unfamiliar territory; hidden barriers, such as conscious goal in opposition to an internal model.

David Krueger, M.D. is an Executive Strategist/ Professional Coach who mentors executives, entrepreneurs, and authors.

He is author of 11 books on success, money, work, and self-development. This article is excerpted from Dr. Krueger's 12th book, soon to be published, LIVE A NEW LIFE STORY: The Essentials of Change, Reinvention, and Personal Success.

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