Failure and Learning Through Leadership

Achieving milestones within a department or an organization is a process that involves a clear strategy, research, team members, and the flexibility to change and adapt along the way.  Just like leaders, a company’s culture or environment doesn’t just happen.  Great cultures are made from the top down and the down up.
 
The key in creating a corporate culture focused on high achievement doesn’t come from the learning curve employees and their teammates face but in how they learn and work together during their failures.  It’s the low points, not the high points that create a high performance team.  Or as Robert Sutton, a Professor at Stanford University says, “Failure sucks but instructs.
 
Consider a company like Starbucks, a now 40-year-old company, and the success they achieved.  Since 1992, and until 2007, the company’s stock rose a staggering 5,000 percent.  Books were written on their rise to fame and the distinct culture they created.  On nearly every corner a Starbucks reached out to entire communities, listened to individual workers and consumers, and seized growth market opportunities, ; and then something happened.  As the economy changed and the world dived deep into a recession, Starbucks continued with their award winning strategy, business as usual, and for that they paid a price.
 
Companies like McDonalds and Duncan Donuts gained market share and Starbucks tried to fight back, but they continued to flounder.  In 2008, Howard Schultz the former president and chairman made a bold move returning to his position eight years after he stepped down.  He was concerned that Starbucks had lost its way culturally as well as financially.  The support and leadership that Schultz provided Starbucks helped put the company’s troubles into perspective allowing them to learn and adapt from their mistakes.  The company returned to its roots focusing on what it did best, make coffee as well as the culture it provides both employees as well as customers.  For Schultz, it’s not just about winning but the right way in which to win and using this strategy he helped once again pull Starbucks into the spotlight.
 
The lesson for companies of all sizes and their leadership teams is that from success we gain confidence, but from failure we are truly tested.  Teams are tested in times of crisis and struggle learning lessons on accountability, collaboration, creativity, and initiative.  Maintaining an even keel and believing in your organization and its business culture will help ensure that even in the good times and the bad, the business will live to fight another day.
 
**This article was originally published as Failure Sucks But Instructs. Ask Starbucks at Blogging4Jobs.  
The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.
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More than 20 years ago, I met with Howard Shultz on behalf of Jacobs Suchard to discuss a possilbe alliance. While that deal never came to fruition, I was taken by his passion and the culture he created amongst the Seattle staff. He participated in weekly meetings on the roasting floor, knew most of the shop employees by their name. He was on a mission and the organization believed in his vision. The rest is history. Sidenote: On our tour of the stores, he had no problem double-parking to save time. That's the sign of a man in a race to the future. Easy to see why folks want to get on board.

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