Lead The Way

In ‘No Fear of Failure – Real Stories of How Leaders Deal with Risk and Change’, 12 leaders tell author Gary Burnison about leadership and what it entails

The book ‘No Fear of Failure – Real Stories of How Leaders Deal with Risk and Change’ is straightforward, like its title. However, unlike the implied inference of the title, this is not just a self-help book. A look at the 12 denizens featured in the book reiterates that – Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man; Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg LP; Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo; Eli Broad: co-founder of Kaufman & Broad, KB Home and SunAmerica; Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico; Lieutenant General Franklin L “Buster” Hagenbeck, retired superintendent, West Point; Coach John McKissik, Summerville High School; Liu Chuanzhi, Founder and Chairman of the board, Lenovo Group Ltd; Daniel Vasella, MD & Chairman, Novartis AG; Drew Gilpin Faust, historian and President of Harvard University; Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, former CEO and President, Nokia Corporation and Chairman, Nokia Siemens Networks; and Anne Mulcahy, retired Chairman and former CEO, Xerox.

The author Gary Burnison is also a corporate leader in his own right. As the CEO of executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, he understands the new business context “where growth means more innovation, creativity and strategic thinking”. The scope for progress that the new scenario offers throws up as many challenges as well – for instance, the recent global economic downturn. In the book, the leaders of today tell how they dealt with success and failure, and what it takes to be one.

According to Michael Bloomberg, while managers coordinate, leaders inspire. “The art of leadership is to know the difference of when to make a change or when to let things play out.” Bloomberg had been let go from a job in the early years of his career but went on to be the mayor of the city and the 15th richest man in the US. He leads by example: he takes the subway to work, and sits in the same room as his employees at the office.

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO, PepsiCo, even sends thank you notes to spouses and parents of her executive team members, and make sure she reads every email that employees send to her. In the book, she credits her success to her immigrant mentality that the job can be taken away at any time.

Faust, who is the first female president of Harvard, wrote to President Eisenhower when she was nine to tell him how she felt about segregation. The common thread across the book is the courage and lack of fear of failure required for a leader. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, who had step down as CEO and President, Nokia Corporation when the company failed to compete successfully with other smartphones in the market, says, “As a leader you have to be at ease with the possibility that you might fail.”

The failures can also be strengths as demonstrated by Carlos Slim. “In business, you invest when things are not in good shape.”

The book does not reach a consensus on whether leadership is inherited or learnt. While some adhered to the theory that it was a mixture of both, Chuanzhi considered himself quite ordinary before starting the company 26 years ago at the age of 40. But by displaying the traits that a leader displays under challenging circumstances, the book turns into an extraordinary chronicle of successfully leading a team in the present times.

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