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The Midweek Motivator – Leadership Autopsies

The Covid conflagration has unleashed a cornucopia of lessons on leadership. Some have used it as a platform for progress, others as an artificial process suggesting their teammates “have their say” only to lead to another predetermined outcome.

Ours’ seems an era where some bosses go the extra mile to underscore their own track record, ultimately claiming credit for their teammates’ innovations or finding someone else to blame when a concept tanks. Jim Collins once wrote an essay on conducting autopsies without blame, using the example of Philip Morris’ takeover of 7-Up. The Morris financial hit was relatively small when we consider the scope of that company; still it was a marketing black eye that required many hours of internal post failure analysis.

Collins wrote of his surprise at how open Philip Morris’ people were in discussing the debacle. Instead of hiding the ugly truth key execs openly wrote about their huge mistake, none more than the late Joe Cullman who devoted five pages to Morris’ 7-Up strikeout. Hundreds of man hours were devoted to assessing the failure; yet no one pointed a finger…with one exception: CEO Joe Cullman actually stood in front of a mirror, pointing a finger at himself!

“This was another Cullman plan that didn’t work,” he wrote. He went on to add that had he listened to his people who challenged his idea Philip Morris might have dodged the setback. He went even further in his post-failure autopsy to name the names of his colleagues who were more accurate in their perspective than he.

In a time like this one with many things a off balance and out of sync, regardless of title too many leaders go to extremes to shield their own resume seizing credit for a success while their teammates remain unacknowledged. Some go to extremes finding someone to blame when their initiatives go in the tank. Yet it’s so motivating to find the department head, division VP or the Program Director who will step forward and freely admit their idea just didn’t work.

When we practice “autopsies-without-blame” we go a long way when leaders admit their imperfection and temporary strike-outs. This creates a climate of confidence (even in temporary failure) building an organizational climate where the truth is heard; the “truth” that really matters.

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