"The fastest way to succeed" IBM's
Thomas Watson, Sr., once said, "is to double your failure rate."
People are afraid to fail, and corporate culture reinforces that
fear. The presence of failure-tolerant leaders can help employees
overcome their anxieties about making mistakes. In the process, they
create a culture of intelligent risk-taking that leads to sustained
innovation. Such leaders don't just accept productive failure, they
Failure-tolerant leaders break down the
social and bureaucratic barriers that separate them from their
followers. They engage at a personal level with the people they
lead. They avoid praising or criticising, preferring to take a non
judgmental, analytical posture as they interact with staff. They
openly admit their own mistakes, instead of trying to cover them up
or shifting the blame. And they try to root out the destructive
competitiveness built into most organizations.
Above all, failure-tolerant leaders push
people to see beyond the traditional definitions of success and
failure. They know that as long as a person views failure as the
opposite of success, rather than its complement, he or she will
never be able to take the risks necessary for innovation.
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Motivation is the desire to do
something. Volition is the absolute commitment to achieving
something. Motivating managers with carrot and stick is overly
simplistic. People commit to action for more subtle reasons.
Volition, implies deep personal
attachment to an intention. Volitional managers have a powerful need
to produce results and are not driven by rewards or even enjoyment.
Willpower lets managers execute disciplined action even when they
lack desire, expect not to enjoy the work, or feel tempted by
Volitional managers do not wait for further information or external
stimuli to get started. They focus attention and energy on
information supporting their goals and block out contradictory
information. They are not tempted by other opportunities or
distracted by disruptions.
Motivation often crumbles at negative
feedback, resistance from colleagues or lack of executive interest.
Volition, however, is inspired by obstacles.
Three phases define the process of
creating and leveraging volition: intention formation, the
resolution to cross over to willpower, and intention protection.
When there's no choice -- in reality or
in perception -- there can be no free will, no volition. Also
essential is acceptance of personal responsibility. The decision to
commit comes with the resolve to bear full responsibility.
Companies are full of distractions that
take attention and energy away from purposive action. Willful
managers modify their environment so as to be impervious to these
distractions. For example, deliberately creating social pressures
(public commitments, challenging deadlines or having relevant
stakeholders monitor a manager's activities) can increase the cost
of abandoning the goal.
When goals are simple, the necessary
actions relatively routine and unexpected difficulties rare,
motivation can lead to action. Managerial jobs, however, are rarely
routine. Managers have multiple and often conflicting goals, many of
which require persistent, long-term action. Their work context is
fragmented, with high levels of uncertainty and opposition. Engaging
willpower is a personal, almost intimate, process that cannot be
triggered merely through rewards.
People need a vivid picture of the goal
in order to activate their emotions and protect their intention
through the action-taking phase. Vivid pictures help simplify
long-term goals and make them tangible. Later, if doubts arise, the
pictures stimulate perseverance. Senior executives can help managers
create such pictures.
Instead of encouraging questions like
"What's in it for me? Is it reasonable?" executives seeking true
commitment must push people to ask, "What's the downside? Does it
feel right? Do I really want it?" That way, managers engage their
emotions, lead to deeper commitment.
When enlisting people for assignments,
most executives paint rosy pictures, downplaying obstacles and
highlighting benefits. Those who foster deep commitment often do the
opposite. They point out the difficulties involved. This prevents
The best way to build effective
organizational commitment is to build it bottom-up, on the
foundation of personal ownership of and commitment to specific
initiatives and goals. In the world of mobile employees, frontline
entrepreneurship and constant, unavoidable organizational
restructuring, it is that kind of commitment that corporate leaders
must develop if they want to build a bias for action in their
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