Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC) Ep 6: Winning and Losing

ATC is proud to partner with Cendea to present the series, “Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC)”. This blog series addresses the questions and gives insight to the art of finding the RIGHT tech leader to hire at the director level and above. Thank you to our experts for sharing their knowledge with the tech community.

Our series on TLC (Talent – Leadership – Culture) has emphasized what it takes to build a winning team and culture.  Now for a peak on the other side of the coin, can your culture withstand failure or losing?  It is often written that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying; you’re not pushing the envelope.   Present day entrepreneurs are taught that mistakes will happen, it’s okay, and seldom fatal. “Fail early” has become a familiar slogan.  

 A winning culture will reinforce teamwork and will defeat any notion of pleasure one might take in seeing a colleague fail.  Internal politics has historically reinforced that when one of your colleagues fails, it enhances your chances for a more favored rung on the corporate ladder.  That old notion was such culture poison!!!

Can you think back to the best team you’ve ever been on?  It may have been a sports team or a corporate team. It could be your military unit.  Historically, the bonds that hold our troops together are among the strongest on earth.  Literally, those relationships are a matter of life and death! If someone fails, it could threaten your own wellbeing so you might even say that your support of others is somewhat self-serving.  Less obvious is the business setting. Like marriage (none are perfect), it takes work and commitment.  

None of us wake up each morning thinking ahead to the day and projecting ways we can fail.  We want to contribute, we want to support. We want to WIN!!! However, if the culture turns negative and suspicion, fear and mistrust are prevalent, negativity will become the new normal.  Perhaps one of the more recent examples that illustrates this notion occurred at Volkswagen and their cover up of false emissions claims. Because there was a prevalent fear culture, a cover up cost considerably more money and credibility to fix what could have been acknowledged and addressed right up front.  If employees are routinely fired for making mistakes, they become more likely to engage in denial and cover up which can lead to far worse outcomes and consequences.  

Just as Mark Twain once said, “if you tell the truth, you don’t need a great memory”, integrity has to be the centerpiece of every organization.  It’s not the exclusive province of senior leadership but certainly the tone has to be set there. If a leader can’t acknowledge their own mistakes, the organization can be expected to follow that example.  Thus, accountability is the backstop of integrity. Every team member has to hold him or herself accountable and take ownership when a mistake or failure occurs.  

Golf is often a metaphor for integrity where players are the only skilled athletes that will call a penalty on themselves.  Ironic that golf is an individual sport and “team” only comes into play during international events such as Ryder Cup, Walker Cup (amateur) and Presidents Cup.  Expectations are that everyone will comport themselves with utmost integrity and sportsmanship. “Picking a teammate up” is never more apparent than during alternate shot events (no one wants to hand a partner a bad lie because of a poor shot or errant strategy). 

No doubt winning is a lot more fun than losing.  The question is, how does the organization handle failure?  If treated as truly learning opportunities which can lead to improvement, the organization is much more stable.  Certainly the TV series M*A*S*H presented many paradoxical scenarios (i.e., Klinger, Burns and Winchester) but when it was critical, they pulled together to preserve life and protect freedom.   Hopefully your own career has examples (even bad examples can be fodder for learning what not to do) of effective winning cultures.   

My own thoughts go back to turnaround situations in my career such as Houston at FedEx and Delaware Valley at Pulte Homes.  Both units were near the bottom of most qualitative charts and in less than a year, both were near the top (service levels, customer satisfaction, efficiency and profitability).  Both organizations recognized that they had the talent and could work together effectively to deliver better results. They did not like losing (or being lowly ranked). They did not like seeing a team member fail.  When mistakes did occur, teammates picked them up and continued to raise the bar. There was a collective pride that settled in once they recognized that they’d gone “worst to first” in about a year’s time. Winning begets winning (unfortunately the converse is also true).  Once you put a winning team on the field, insist on integrity and accountability and recognize success, it’ll become a habit. Easy? No, but also not as hard as you might think. Reinforce resiliency during slumps and losses. Celebrate wins and success. Bake it into your KPI’s.  Enjoy the results!

Cendea has over 25 years of securing great talent for great opportunities.  Please feel free to call us at 512.219.6000. Wade Allen, President & CEO, x101, or Jim Bledsoe, Senior Partner, x121.