“Some people get their kicks,
Stompin” on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine ‘ol world it keeps spinning around.
-Dean Kay and Kelly Gordeon, recorded by Frank Sinatra, “That’s Life”
I came across those lines in Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Wards’ excellent new book, Firing Back, How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters, and thought they shed a lot of light on careers and personal branding.
Sonnenfeld and Ward’s thesis is that bad things happen to good leaders — just as they happen to all of us. Much as we like to attribute luck to success, the fact is that no one is immune to failure. What sets successful leaders apart from us average Joes, according to the authors, is their extraordinary ability to cope with adversity. Think Donald Trump or Martha Stewart, both of whom faced seemingly unsolvable problems. Trump loaded with debt, Stewart convicted of lying and obstruction of justice, but both today flourishing.
The fact is that successful leaders’ sense of themselves — their internal personal brand — is stronger than any external setbacks. As Sonnenfeld and Ward put it, “A defeat merely energized them to rejoin the fray with greater ardor. It is not the proportion of their losses that differentiates these influencers from the rest of us, but how they construed their losses.”
In fact, adversity actually toughens these leaders, energizing them to “rejoin the fray with greater ardor.”
Equally important, the authors pooh pooh much of the success literature and self-help gospels as a lot of hooey. Their point is that these gospels of gooey optimism ignore the fact that the key to success is not based on the “power of positive thinking,” but learning how to cope with — and bounce back from — failure. Great leaders, the authors note, succeed by mastering the art of failure. Refusing to be held down by obstacles, leaders find within themselves the creativity and stamina to make a comeback.
The authors provide six lessons to “creating triumph from tragedy”:
• Failure is a beginning, not an end
• Ignore the advice of friends to lick your wounds
• No matter how dire the circumstances seem, triumphant comeback is possible — as long as you didn’t kill someone
• While it may seem that the world is against you, there are people who support you and are eager to help if you will let them
• Get your mission clear
• Know your story and tell it in a way that rebuilds your reputation.
• Comeback is not a matter of luck; it is taking a chosen path
Have you fired back? I’d love to hear your story.