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The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price

ISBN: 978-1-118-13501-3
304 pages
October 2012, Jossey-Bass
The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price (1118135016) cover image
The "how-not-to" leadership book

There is a paradox in leadership: we can only succeed by knowing failure. Every accomplished leader knows there are minefields of failures that need to be navigated in order to succeed. Wouldn't it be great to have the insights to help you prevent from making avoidable mistakes? Unfortunately, in business talking about mistakes can be taboo, and, at a certain level, learning from failure is not an option. Weinzimmer and McConoughey speak frankly about the things that are difficult to talk about – the unvarnished truths necessary to become a successful leader.

  • Based on a groundbreaking 7-year study of what almost 1000 managers across 21 industries really think about lessons from failures
  • Includes exclusive interview material from CEOs at a wide range of organizations, including major firms such as Caterpillar, Priceline.com, and Allstate; startups; and entrepreneurial small businesses
  • Drills down into failure to uncover the strategies that aspiring leaders need in order to avoid the most damning leadership mistakes: unbalanced orchestration, drama management, and reckless vanity

Learning from the mistakes of others is a necessary part of the journey of effective leadership, and this book offers an indispensable guide to learning these powerful lessons—without paying the price of failure.

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1 Flawless Leadership: Learning the Lessons Without Paying the Price 1

PART ONE Unbalanced Orchestration

2 Seduced by Yes: Trying to Be All Things to All People 31

3 Businesses You Have No Business Being In: Roaming Outside the Box 57

4 Entrenched in Efficiency: Forgetting to Put Effectiveness First 77

PART TWO Drama Management

5 The Playground in the Workplace: Leaders Who Rule by Bullying 101

6 When Utopia Becomes Dystopia: Problems with Dysfunctional Harmony 125

7 The Battle Within: Distracted Purpose 151

PART THREE Personality Issues

8 Standing in the Way: Hoarding Power and Responsibility 175

9 Living Outside the Storm: The Destructive Path of Disengagement 197

10 “Does This Doorframe Make My Head Look Big?”: Problems with Self-Absorbed Leaders 221

A Final Caveat: Walking the Line 241

Notes 245

Acknowledgments 259

Index 261

About the Authors 281

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Laurence G. Weinzimmer is an endowed professor of management at Bradley University. He is an internationally recognized speaker and advisor to numerous Fortune 100 companies on issues relating to strategy and leadership. He is the author of the bestseller Fast Growth: How to Attain It, How to Sustain It.

Jim McConoughey is an experienced CEO, sought-after business development and community leadership expert, and an active fund manager for venture and early-stage capital investments. Jim's particular focus is working with small to mid-size organizations to identify and evaluate strategic growth opportunities. For more information please visit www.TheWisdomofFailure.com

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“After reading only one of the chapter headings of The Wisdom of Failure—‘Does This Doorframe Make My Head Look Big?’—I knew I was in for a real treat. Luckily for me, the rest of the book does not disappoint. Through their analysis of many pointed leadership examples in American business, the authors distill corporate lessons into pearls of wisdom from which all of us can learn.”
—Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times bestselling author, MOJO and What Got You Here Won't Get You There

“A definitive piece of work that makes a most compelling connection between understanding failure and experiencing success. A must-read for serious-minded leaders who want to take their businesses to higher ground in an enduring way.”
—Douglas R. Conant, former president, CEO, and director, Campbell Soup Company; New York Times bestselling author, Touchpoints

“In this important new book from Weinzimmer and McConoughey, we discover how true it is, that the best leaders are the best learners. The Wisdom of Failure is a rare, honest look at both sides of the leadership story. Solidly researched and filled with practical examples you can apply immediately, this book should be read by leaders across the board.”
—Jim Kouzes, Dean's Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University; bestselling coauthor, The Leadership Challenge

“All great leaders learn from their mistakes, but mistakes are a precious and costly resource. This provocative and thoughtful book allows you to learn from others’ mistakes, so you can learn without paying the price. Buy copies for everyone on your team and leverage these lessons on your journey to creating extraordinary results.”
—Saj-nicole Joni, confidential CEO advisor; bestselling author, The Right Fight

The Wisdom of Failure is an epiphany. From the very first chapter, Weinzimmer and McConoughey shift the reader’s focus beyond short term accolades and trade-offs to a horizon where a leader can find true success and accomplishment. In their well-researched book, the authors give leaders the tough love they need to learn from their mistakes before their mistakes become costly. A must-read for aspiring, new, and seasoned leaders.”
—Jennifer Robin, Ph.D., author, The Great Workplace

“The importance of understanding failure’s lessons cannot be overstated in today’s fast-moving business environment, and The Wisdom of Failure offers a smart research-based guide to navigating these tough leadership lessons. You’ll be engaged from the very first page.”
—Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School; author, Teaming

The Wisdom of Failure allows you to benefit from the inevitable growth that comes from failure without having to experience it first-hand. An invaluable read for anyone striving to move themselves and their business forward.”
—Dan Schawbel, founder, Millennial Branding; author, Me 2.0

“Never before has learning from failure been more important—to innovation, to learning, to strategy under uncertainty, and to the development of the next generation of leaders. Ironically, in many organizations the attitude towards failure virtually guarantees not only that people won’t learn its valuable lessons but that they will also suffer the brunt of its downsides. This well-researched and accessible book is a timely summary of how failure can be useful, even essential, and serves as a welcome reminder of the importance of ‘failing forward.’”
—Rita Gunther McGrath, strategy and innovation advisor, Columbia Business School Professor; coauthor, Discovery-Driven Growth

“Having worked with hundreds of emerging companies, I have seen failure in all flavors! Finally we have, in one well-written book, the lessons learned from such experiences. The Wisdom of Failure is an instant business classic destined for the tablets and shelves of our innovation economy’s leaders.”
—Larry Weber, chairman and CEO, W2 Group

“Leaders become great only when they have overcome adversity. We learn how to grow from our setbacks. Weinzimmer and McConoughey have created a simple framework and practical methodology to develop an organizational culture that encourages productive innovation. The Wisdom of Failure provides us with the research, case studies, and tools to transform our failures into our biggest successes.”
—Jeff DeGraff, professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan; author, Innovation You, Leading Innovation, and Creativity at Work

“Every truly great leader has experienced failure and (more important) learned from it. Organizations that support ‘smart’ failure are more innovative, adaptable, resilient, and profitable. In The Wisdom of Failure, Weinzimmer and McConoughey have distilled the key factors that are most likely to push every one of us off track, and outlined the practices that leaders, teams, and entire organizations can use to navigate around those hazards. If you aren’t pushing yourself to the point where failure is a possibility, you are not coming close to your potential as a leader. But in today’s times, where acceleration is the new normal, you’ll need this book as your guide.”
—Eric McNulty, editor, Harvard School of Public Health; coauthor, You’re It! Lessons from Crisis Meta-Leadership

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September 25, 2012
The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn The Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price

We’re all on a quest for high performance and great outcomes. But how can we succeed without studying failure?

Talking about failure in our culture is hard now, even taboo. Yet as the authors of this new book demonstrate, mistakes are costly to people and their organizations. Failure must therefore be talked about, examined, and explored if we’re to learn tough lessons without paying the price. In the new book: The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price (Jossey-Bass; 978-1-118-13501-3; e-book available; October 2012) the good news is that our chances of being successful actually increase when we take the time to understand “the dark side.”

This dynamic, story driven book – for leaders and aspiring leaders in any and all organizations – identifies the most frequent drivers of failure and describes simply and practically how to side step them. Based in real-world experiences, it reflects the authors’ extensive 7-year, 3-tiered study of almost 1,000 people across sectors, functions and levels about their own experiences with failure, what cause it and how it could have been avoided. The book is not about assigning blame. Instead, it is about teaching people to learn from the mistakes of others, without paying the often all-to-painful price themselves.

 Proposed Story/Article Ideas:

  • Given the number of high profile recent business failures, there is a growing appetite in the press and culture to spotlight failure. This book is the first to study failure with the goal of not just reporting it, but learning from it to avoid it.
  • Fat times mask mistakes and allow us to focus on what is working. In hard times, we are forced to ask the harder question: What is NOT working and why, and how can we fix it? This book candidly addresses this critical “other half of the story.”
  • Leaders and organizations cannot succeed without risking failure, which is rarely talked about now. It is time to tackle the subject head on by de-stigmatizing failure so others can learn from it.

 

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