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Unsuccessful and how!

AFTER Steven Covey spoke of the habits (and other things) of effective people, it has become <110>de rigueur<111>for professionals to quote him, to extol the virtues of the `extraordinary work' and talk of how deeply one was influenced by Covey's management insights. But, what of the not-so- successful ones? It is rarely discussed what takes a man to be spectacularly unsuccessful, to be known as the architect of failure.

Talks & traits

Ironically, the seven (magical!) traits of successful men viz., experience, knowledge, attitude, effort, skill, grit and positivism are also the traits of unsuccessful people! It is indeed a thin line difference. Like the metaphorical fallen heroes when they fail, they fail monumentally and leave destruction and depression in their wake. Sounds melodramatic? Think of Arthur Anderson, and former high fliers like Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. Whether you are a manager of men or materials you can develop any of these habits and misuse them to fail consistently. Take your pick.

<110>They see themselves as all dominant

<111>Experience teaches but some fail to learn. Managers who suffer from the illusion of being all-powerful often overestimate their capabilities. A certain lack of respect for their clients and employees marks their dealings. One cannot be taught experience but nevertheless one can learn from it - but they do not.

<110>They are totally consumed

<111>They are the company and the company is them. Their identification with the company is so complete that the boundary between personal and organisational interests becomes hazy. Commitment is fine; but passion to the point of obsession is not. It has not been unknown for senior management to treat the company as their personal fiefdom. Like the CEO of Tyco, Dennis Kozlowski, who made impassioned pleas for ethical behaviour, all the while siphoning corporate funds for his personal pleasures. He did not even believe that he was being dishonest! Denial and defensiveness is the hallmark of their character. A common Indian example is a Chairman/CEO of a floundering company who bought a house and financed it by letting it out on usurious rent to his own company to use as a guesthouse after having furnished and furbished it at company expense!

<110>They're Omniscient

<111> They like to believe that they have all the answers hence they aren't open to any new learning. Taking snap decisions is their forte. And that's rather unfortunate for they never wait long enough to grasp the ramifications of a situation. Dissent is disallowed and no other points of view are heard or entertained. They assume that they know all there is to know, and act upon their decisions without consulting anyone else.

<110>Kill Bill

<111>What did we say about dissent? Unsuccessful leaders/ managers like to eliminate anyone who doesn't support them. Either the employees are with them or they are out. What they fail to realise is that this kind of attitude is both unnecessary and destructive. By stifling opposition they cut themselves off from knowing all aspects of a problem. Frequent employee departures on `personal grounds' should be a cause for concern for the management as it indicates that there is something wrong in the way the company is being run.

<110>They're smooth talkers

<111>These executives are so obsessed with the company image that most of their efforts are directed towards developing and maintaining that image. More than confidence, it is hubris that guides them. It is more important for them to be seen to be accomplishing things, the fact that they do not actually accomplish anything is, to them, immaterial. Attention-seeking is in their blood and an excessive hype marks every venture of theirs.

<110>They underestimate obstacles

<111>They hate being called unsuccessful! Many leaders are so enamoured of the vision they have for themselves and their company that they underestimate the obstacles they may encounter. And when faced with a difficult situation, they collapse. Optimism as a trait is an admirable quality but when stretched to its limit it can haze reality checks.

<110>For them the past is perfect

<111>Not surprisingly such managers dislike change of any kind. They rely on what has worked for them in the past adamantly refusing to see that situations have changed. Innovative problem solving is beyond them. Their careers are the only reference points. They may have struggled to get into the top institutions and then struggled to perform superlatively well there, but having graduated, they expected the world to do them a favour. They assume that their past struggle and achievement gives them the right to expect instant compliance from the world for their early effort. The one defining point of their careers often becomes the measure by which they evaluate everything. There is always wistfulness when they talk of the past and how well things worked `back then'.

There is a thin line dividing the spectacularly successful people from their unsuccessful counterparts. Depending on the personal foibles they could either be architects of growth or failure. The key lies in accepting and managing the flaws; warts and what have you, rather than denying their existence. It lies in the will to want to become the best that one can be.


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