Tom Watson Jr., CEO of IBM between 1956 and 1971, was a key figure in the information revolution. Watson repeatedly demonstrated his abilities as a leader, never more so than in our first short story
A young executive had made some bad decisions that cost the company several million dollars. He was summoned to Watson’s office, fully expecting to be dismissed. As he entered the office, the young executive said, “I suppose after that set of mistakes you will want to fire me.” Watson was said to have replied,
“Not at all, young man, we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you.”
Source: Edgar Schein in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership)
This story provides a strong message of support and a reminder that some of the most powerful lessons we can learn are from our so-called failures or difficult times.
Remember Edison’s famous saying: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison also demonstrated a great response to adversity which compliments Watson Jr’s actions. When his factory was burned down, with much of his life’s work inside, Edison said: “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start new.”
A characteristic of leadership is to see things differently. Seeing mistakes as an investment in learning.
Finally, here are some quotes about re-defining success, perhaps by seeing it differently:
- “Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison
- “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
- “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”Booker T Washington
- “He who has never made a mistake, never made a discovery.” Samuel Smiles
- “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Bill Gates
- “I am a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” Abraham Lincoln
- “Success in management is when those you manage succeed, and the organization you work for succeeds.” Unknown