Deep Leadership Episode 77: Excellence Attracts Excellence

Today we are going to talking about excellence. What is it? Well, you know it when you see it. Like a quarterback posting a picture of himself on social media wearing the 7 super bowl rings he has earned throughout in his career. Yes, we’re talking about Tom Brady but this episode isn’t about him, it’s about what people like him do to an organization. What do I mean by that? Tune in and about to find out.

The subject of excellence is covered in both my bestselling books, I Have the Watch and All in the Same Boat

I have the watch book
I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following

All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner

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© Jon S. Rennie and Deck & Conn, LLC

Using Failure to Fuel Sucess

You’ve probably noticed the same thing as me.

There is success all around us and, as a society, we love to celebrate success. Think about social media. It’s really just a collection of everyone’s highlight reel sent out into cyberspace hoping to get a little positive affirmation.

We also love a good rags-to-riches success story.

Like J. K. Rowling for example.

She went from living on welfare to becoming the world’s first billionaire author.

We love stories like this because it helps us imagine that one day, if we get lucky, maybe we might become the next rags-to-riches story.

But, what about failure?

We don’t like to think or talk about our failures.

We purposely hide our outtakes and our blooper reel from the world.

We purposely hide our outtakes and our blooper reel from the world. Click To Tweet

We fear failure. It’s embarrassing and discouraging when we fail. We feel like a loser in a world where everyone else is winning.

The problem is that failure gets a bad rap. It’s actually more important than success.

Let me explain.

Consider this. Between 2004 and 2006, at the height of auto-maker Toyota’s success, it recalled more vehicles than ever before. They learned the hard way that success leads to complacency.

We need failure.

We need it to learn, grow, and to provide the fuel to propel us towards our goals.

We need failure to learn, grow, and to provide the fuel to propel us towards our goals. Click To Tweet

Even the great J. K. Rowling was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before Bloomsbury finally accepted her stories.

Think of this quote that is often attributed to Winston Churchill (although he never actually said it):

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” 

Failure is not the problem.

Our response to failure is. It’s the courage to continue that counts.

I recently had Colonel George Milton on my podcast and we spoke specifically about failure. He took a life of failure and built an amazing career in leadership.

He is a highly decorated combat Army veteran who barely graduated from high school. The story of his early struggles and how it provided fuel for his success is powerful.

He never let failure stop him and he was eventually inducted into the United States Army Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame.

Listen in to this episode and learn how to harness the power of failure.

P.S. If you haven’t followed me on Instagram yet, you should. You’ll get a little more “behind the scenes” view of what it’s like to lead a manufacturing business.

What Does it Mean to Have your Employee’s Back?

Let me share a short story about a boss who had my back.

I had spent thousands of dollars of the company’s money.

It was my first trip to the high-power test lab and I was nervous. I was the lead mechanical engineer on a major project to design a breakthrough electrical product. I was confident in our design but still a little worried. An electrical shock of 15,000 volts is violent and, despite my calculations, I knew anything could go wrong.

I spent the morning getting everything ready for the first test.

By noon, it was go-time. There was no backing down.

Less than one second after the voltage was applied, my worst fears were realized. The product exploded violently. Parts flew off in every direction. It wasn’t just a failure – it was an absolute disaster.

I had failed spectacularly.

I knew I had to call my boss and I knew it wouldn’t be good. I would probably lose my job for this. I was discouraged. My days in design engineering were probably over.

I called my boss and explained what had happened. Expecting the worst, I was shocked at his response.

He said to me, “Do you know why it failed?” My answer was yes. He then asked, “Do you know how to fix it?” Again, my answer was also yes. Without any emotion, he said, “Well, get back here and get the redesign done so you can return to the lab.”

Right then I knew – my boss had my back.

Instead of chastising me, he encouraged me.

Instead of losing my job, he had given me a new mission.

My respect for him skyrocketed.

My respect for him skyrocketed. Click To Tweet

I knew I had a good boss and I wanted to make him proud. And I did. I returned to the lab a short month later and passed every test.

We were the first to the market with this new technology and our business was extremely successful because of it.

This happened to me more than 20 years ago and I can still remember exactly how I felt that day. I felt empowered knowing I had a boss who would stand behind me even if I made a mistake.

Unfortunately, many bosses don’t understand the power of supporting their employees.

Many bosses don’t understand the power of supporting their employees. Click To Tweet

Too many bosses won’t back up their team members when bad things happen. As soon as anything casts a shadow on these bosses, they abandon their people. They don’t want to get in trouble themselves. They are looking out for their own careers. They walk away and let the employee take the fall.

This is the worst type of boss.

When something goes wrong, they immediately leave employees hanging – or worse, they throw them under the bus.

These bosses want all the glory but they don’t want to take any blame for failures.

These bosses want all the glory but they don’t want to take any blame for failures. Click To Tweet

What’s worse is that everyone in the organization knows this and it deeply affects the culture. When employees know they have a boss that won’t back them up if anything bad happens, they stop taking chances. They stop trying new things. They stop pushing the envelope of what’s possible.

They’re afraid to fail and fear grinds the organization to a halt. The organization becomes stagnant and good people start looking for other opportunities.

I like this quote from Hendry Stuart Mackenzie Burns:

“A good manager is [someone] who isn’t worried about [their] own career but rather the careers of those who work for [them].” 

So how about you?

Do you have your employee’s back? Or are you in it just for yourself?

The difference will determine your effectiveness as a leader.

If you like this story, get a copy of my latest book – “I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following”  It is filled with 23 short stories like this on how you can become a more effective leader.


By the way, If you want to get more out of your daily commute, listen to my podcast, Deep Leadership.  It’s available on all podcast apps.

And my best-selling leadership book, I Have the Watch, is also available on Audible for your commuting pleasure.