Millions of readers purchased Built to Last and Good to Great. Can you name any books focusing on business failure? Is business failure a term you even search for in your favorite web browser? Let me suggest that we can learn as much about failure than we can from the successes of others.
One of my old bosses once said we should learn to celebrate failure. That advice has stuck with me, but his instruction requires discernment. We should celebrate failure in the midst of exploring many options toward a successful outcome knowing that the next attempt could lead us toward the objective.
A Book on Failure
Were you able to answer my question earlier? That is, can you name a book about business failure? If books about Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, or the subprime mortgage crises come to mind, give yourself extra credit. That’s a great starting point for learning about the causes of failure.
I was thinking along the lines of Finkelstein’s Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes.
Why CEOs Fail – The 7 Habits
My favorite chapter of this book is near the end, Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People. Here are the 7 traits the author found in his research:
- CEOs see themselves and their companies dominating their environments.
- CEOs identify so completely with the companies they run, there is no clear distinction or boundary between personal interests and the company’s interests.
- CEOs think they have all the answers.
- CEOs get rid of anyone who is not 100% behind them.
- CEOs are obsessed with company image and are the consummate company spokespersons.
- CEOs vastly underestimate major obstacles.
- CEOs stubbornly rely on what has worked in the past.
Is the list above complete? Do you agree with it? What would you add to it?
Failure should be taken in context. The author at the beginning of the book states most failures occur when addressing competitive pressures, creating new ventures, dealing with innovation or change, and managing mergers and acquisitions. I would add a fifth bullet point–when the current strategy is no longer working.
The Quick Read on CEO Failures
Don’t have time to read the book? Start here with this short article on why smart executives fail which addresses the seven habits above.
Incidentally, the 7 Habits do not apply to just CEOs. How about coaches, military generals, political leaders, or famous entertainers? How about financials leaders too?