Why we shouldn’t fear failure

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better”Samuel Beckett

Last week, defending champion Emma Raducanu, bowed out of the US Open after a first-round defeat to an opponent ranked 40th in the world. Making more than 30 unforced errors her performance was a far cry from last year’s “Fairy Tale in New York” that had seen her rise from qualifier to grand slam winner in one magical fortnight. 

Somewhat predictably, the pundits have had a field day, offering little perspective and even less practical advice to a player not yet 20 years old. She has been distracted by fame they say, had too many coaches, been poorly managed and trained the wrong way… all of which may well have some truth.  

But I was struck by Raducanu’s more sanguine assessment of her situation. The defeat was an opportunity to reset, she claimed — a chance to climb back up the rankings, but without the weight of expectations on her back. Implied in her response was the maturity to recognize that it wasn’t realistic to maintain the trajectory of last year’s success.  

I sensed also that, despite her (and our) obvious disappointments, she’d come to understand that failure has much to teach us. Ask any creative artist, and they’ll tell you that they learn more from their mistakes than they do their exhibition pieces. The same principle applies to politicians, economists, entrepreneurs… and for us all in our roles as parents, friends, volunteers —or, in my case, attempts to be the best club tennis player I can be!

This reminds me that in our careers as well as our everyday lives, success, and its counterpart failure, is usually more relative than the flawless expectations we project on our sporting heroes. There’s a world of difference between missing a challenging target and destroying millions of dollars of shareholder value; just as there is between falling short of straight A grades and flunking all your exams. The first response to perceived failure should be to put it into perspective and consider what’s been achieved along the way.

This is why we should remember that despite her recent dip in form, Raducanu remains one of only four teenagers in the World’s top 100, in addition to having beaten tennis hero Serena Williams only weeks before her US Open exit. Her story has inspired thousands of young girls to pick up a racket and unlike many sporting prodigies, she has remained mentally strong under pressures that would buckle most of us. How many of us would give our eye teeth for one-tenth of her talent and prospects?   

It’s folly to chase straight-line success in any field of endeavor.  And it’s equally unwise to remove the possibility of setbacks. If, as an investor, you want maximum certainty then buy government bonds, but in doing so, understand that your returns will be smaller and the projections somewhat unexciting. Alternatively, you could spread your capital across a balanced portfolio, accepting that there’ll be peaks and troughs in the pursuit of growth over time. So too with our careers (and particularly those aspiring to be leaders) where the smart money is not on following a risk-free path. 

In choosing this route, we can also be more of ourselves, making the most of our skills while building our experience. And in line with Raducanu’s comments, we should try to do so without the weight of unrealistic expectations on our backs. Working and living with passion and commitment demands that we face some jeopardy. How diminished our careers would be if they were shaped by timidity, and how sad a life that’s constantly looking over its shoulders. Much better to make decisions we believe in, having faith in our abilities while recognizing that not every choice will work out as we wish.

The helpful reality is that leadership errors seldom expose our flaws as publically as a show court at Flushing Meadows. This doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t matter, or that we shouldn’t care about their consequences. Indeed, it’s the concern to get it right next time that drives us to come back stronger —meaning that failure is far from fatal to our future. In responding, there’s also no shortage of advice on how to build back from our blunders, of working the problem, analyzing our tactics, or the strengths of our team. Frankly, there are whole industries of professionals to help us make better choices.

But I’d suggest all this is peripheral and comes only after the fact. The number one lesson we should take from failure is far from being something to fear, it’s part of a healthy and fulfilling life. And in so being, is essential to our becoming better people, better leaders, or indeed better tennis players.

Truth, trust and freedom of thought

In the space of a week, three unrelated conversations have given me pause for thought. Actually, that’s an understatement, for the triangulation of the points they raise has troubled me deeply, speaking as it does to the crisis of truth, trust, and freedom of expression that I fear is coming to define our age.  Let me tell you a little of what I mean.

The first was an email from a friend in England in which she lambasted the current contest for the Conservative Party leadership and future Prime Minister of the UK. Her particular anger was the vacuity of the candidates’ promises and their blatant targeting of a mere fraction of the population. It was she said, a “race to the bottom” and not democracy as we know it or, deep down, believe it should be.

The second —and almost mirror image of these concerns —was a long overdue personal call with a former colleague. After catching up on family and putting the world to rights he told me, with a heavy heart, that his company is starting its annual reporting cycle. The next month he said, would be like a slowly deflating balloon, the process gradually sucking the energy of his team as they seek ever more contrived ways to evade the use of everyday language that might come back to bite.  I know how he feels, for I have been there often.

As for the third conversation, I’ll come to that in a moment, for it was with myself and occurred only after I’d been pondering these first two. Meanwhile, the points my friends raised should concern us all, for they go to the heart of what it is to speak truthfully and with sufficient integrity to give us confidence in what’s being said.  

On the one hand, under the veil of a democratic process, we have a political class (and this is not confined to the UK and US) that takes its responsibility for any sort of measurement and accountability with a pinch of salt. Theoretically, their disingenuity can come to roost at the ballot box, but in day-to-day terms, aided by spin doctors, a dysfunctional media, and the short memory of our collective consciousness, they carry on regardless. If they take us for fools, we are to some extent complicit.

At the other extreme, our largest corporations are now answerable to an ever-growing profusion of reporting requirements that are designed to ensure full transparency, but which in practice result in obfuscation and conditionality. Over the course of my career, the tone and content of stakeholder reporting have shifted from an open communication exercise to a cautious compliance process —and in so doing, it has lost its meaning to all but a few accountants and analysts. Read almost any listed company’s statements, and you’ll see what I mean — talk about hiding the wood with the trees!  

But of course, to say as much, in either context is a sort of heresy. 

This brings me to my third conversation, sparked by the horrific attack on the author Salmon Rushdie last week.  If I don’t go into detail here, it’s not only because the assault has been widely reported and rightly condemned, but also that I won’t risk giving any oxygen to those who might seek to nuance our outrage.  

Rather I’ll cut to the central thread, which is that limits to our freedom of speech don’t just impact those with the courage to speak up — in lessening what we hear and consider, they diminish us all. This is why I believe when committing to whatever values we believe in, chief among those should be an acknowledgment of the right of others to challenge — and importantly, to explore — without fear of being labeled an outcast. 

We all know why President Putin tolerates no dissent to his descriptor of Russia’s ‘special operation’ in Ukraine — but are we, I wonder, attentive enough to the verbal straightjacket we increasingly wear at home?  How easily do we make it for colleagues to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy — and how many are reluctant to share concerns for fear of offending political correctness?

The proliferation of so-called ‘safe spaces’ in workplaces and academia is a case in point. Of course, all of us would like to live and work in environments where we can be ourselves and have our opinions respected.  But this mustn’t be at the cost of removing the same right of others. The uncomfortable truth is that opinions, faiths, and values differ —and often in ways that are not entirely reconcilable. When it comes to values and ideas, the only truly safe space is the one in which all can be heard —no matter how nonconformist they may be —  and then adopted, rejected, or even ridiculed on our assessment of their merits. 

To return to my opening remarks, I have thought long and hard if it’s possible to learn from this triangle of concerns. Might we, for example, rebuild trust in our politics by insisting on more stringent measures and accountabilities? In the regulatory sphere, could we find some leeway for plain speaking and best intentions rather than nailing every syllable to the mast? And as for the workplace —and our communities —can we reach common cause in the proposition that being inclusive and sensitive, means also allowing for difference and dissent?

Ever the optimist, I believe that we can; ever the realist; I’m not confident we will. 

This conclusion saddens me, not least because I want always to look forward with hope. But I’m buoyed by the thought that individual actions make a difference and reminded that my friends in speaking and emailing felt much the same. If wider society does not balance these forces then at least I can try, and by setting the best example we can — to my colleagues, families, and those others I connect with — make a small contribution to rebuilding the trust, truth, and freedom of expression that are hallmarks of the values I hold most dear.

Why Values Must Always Be Open to Fresh Ideas

Winston Churchill is famously credited with saying that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others… Although often quoted as a humorous aphorism, his deeper point was that despite an inherent inefficiency, the checks and balances of an open society are the best way to secure progress, peace, and prosperity for all. I sometimes wonder if his conviction was a comfort when having led his country through the Second World War, he was promptly voted out of office.

The benefits of an open society were further explored around the same time by the philosopher Karl Popper. As an Austrian of Jewish descent, he had close experience of the dark side of authoritarianism. His core insights were founded on the contrast between the rich battle of opinions that democracies thrive on, and the limiting dogma of societies dominated by a single party, person or cultural creed. Applying the methods of scientific inquiry to politics and government, Popper was a standard-bearer for diversity, freedom, and the meritocracy of ideas.

Today, many of the world’s larger companies and organizations have as much power and influence as nation-states. Indeed, the reach of multinational corporations has long been a cause of concern for governments and international law. Recently, for example, the policies and practices of the technology giants controlling social media have rightly come in for scrutiny, given their role in public debate. It’s no coincidence that the world’s most repressive regimes all seek to limit their availability as a means of stamping out critical thought.

Businesses of course are not democracies in the true sense, and indeed there is a good reason why this is so. The combination of ownership rights and the need for clear direction requires a hybrid model in which a range of views are considered, but without recourse to a vote on every issue. Companies in the democratic West also operate in a wider context of competition and regulatory law that provides a range of checks and balances which are lacking in more centrally controlled economies. Perhaps most importantly, the best businesses recognize that their long-term prosperity lies in being open to fresh ideas and challenges, validated on merit rather than any alignment to an orthodoxy.

All of this explains why I think we should have pause for thought when someone as powerful as Elon Musk makes a bid for Twitter. Is it right that effectively he alone decides whether former President Trump should or be given access, or that one or other view is acceptable or too dominant?  Are we comfortable that the checks and balances I spoke of earlier can continue to work when there is such a disparity of influence and dominance of ownership? Twitter, for all its faults, is unarguably one of the most influential political platforms on Earth. And that’s why I’m queasy about the prospect of it coming under the control of anyone individual, regardless of whether they’re a benign saint or an evil genius.

In recent years I’ve written a lot about values and their critical role in the health of organizations. What’s become clear to me is the essential tension we must hold between being steadfast in our beliefs while remaining open to challenges and ultimately their change. This is why values are best determined by a commitment to ‘inside-out’ thinking, ensuring we listen carefully to the views of those within the organization as well as the best thoughts from beyond. A sure sign that values are not representative or effective in their purpose is when they become overly aligned to one particular viewpoint.

There are no easy solutions to achieving this. In a sense, we will always fail in our pursuit, just as listening and compromise will always be frustrating to those who are certain they are right! In the case of Twitter, I’m at least reassured that it will continue to operate under the competitive pressures that are perhaps our greatest insurance against closed thinking. Meanwhile, as leaders—in business, politics or indeed our daily lives —we must all be torchbearers for Popper’s open society of ideas and opinions. And in doing so, we would do well to remember Churchill, and recognize that the path of innovation and inclusion will often seem like the worst possible way… bar all the rest!

Ukraine: a war of values as much as weapons

To write on geopolitics as momentous events unfold is fraught with danger of a sort. Had I started this article last week, the context, as well as your response to my thoughts, would likely have been different. It may well be that what I have to say now will look foolish or naive in but a few weeks or even days’ time. Such is the pace and magnitude of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact across the globe.

And yet to stay silent, even temporarily, would also be cowardice of sorts. There are lessons in what is unfolding that ought to be aired in a manner that is, if only in some very small way, a challenge to the dead ends of Putin’s autocratic mindset. If in doing so I risk the potential to misread or misspeak, I can take heart in Hellen Keller’s assertion that Security is mostly a superstition… Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.

When I first learned of the invasion, I felt very perturbed. It’s difficult, I think, for many Americans to fully appreciate the proximity of events to my friends and colleagues in Europe. The borders of what we once knew as the Eastern Bloc are but a few hundred miles away from my childhood home. The knowledge that tanks are rolling across lands that we had hoped would become free from oppression is a sadness that’s more visceral than any trans-Atlantic reportage can convey.

Let’s not be too romantic though; Ukraine was not some pillar of virtue and by no means the best example of those former Soviet-controlled countries that reclaimed their identities after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Indeed, in 2021 it was only 86th in the ranking of world democracies and came 16th out of the 29 post-socialist countries in the Freedom House Index. Like many former Soviet states, Ukraine was at best a nation in transition. 

But for all its faults, the government in Kiev was slowly rejecting the authoritarianism that remains the legacy of so many former communist states. Importantly, the new president, who has been elected on an anti-corruption platform, was looking to the West and not the East for a vision of a more prosperous future. And it is surely this, more than any threat of joining the EU or NATO that so threatened his Russian counterpart.  What Putin fears is not Ukraine’s weapons but its emerging values; his existential nightmare is not the physical threat to his borders, but the possibility that a mindset of freedom might seep over them. 

  And it is this that is the greatest sadness of all.

For this is a war of lost opportunity, not just in Ukraine but in Russia and its satellites too. Had I been writing in the early eighties, I might have queried if the socialist states could ever transition to an open market model. Today that battle is over, with precious few countries in the world rejecting private enterprise; even China is effectively capitalist in nature.  But if the economic axis is now determined, its political equivalent—the spectrum running from freedom to authoritarianism—is just as divided as ever. 

As individuals, at times like these we can feel powerless, having to trust in our leaders and institutions to make the right calls. Militarily and politically, that is broadly true, but it seems to me that we can still make a difference, however small, by looking again at our own spheres of influence and recommitting to the values that we believe—indeed know—are right in and off themselves.

In this respect, Ukraine should be wake-up call for each and every one of us—and especially so to those in positions of influence— reminding us all of the precious nature of freedom from oppression, of meritocracy and open-minded debate; of the immense benefits that flow from the messy world of liberal values as opposed to the sterile structures of autocratic control.  From our families to our communities and our workplaces, rekindling our commitment to these values is perhaps the most important message we can send to those seeking to deny them to others. 

Lasting success will mean holding to our beliefs not only when threats are immediate but when they are distant too. We must be always be prepared, in our businesses and beyond, to pay a price today for dividends that take time to mature. The pictures of military convoys may galvanize our solidarity and resolve— and I sincerely hope they will—but in time the news reports will surely fade, and it is then that our vision and faith are the most vital assets we will possess.

In drawing on them we would do well to remember again the words of Helen Keller, who in facing immense challenge urged us all to…  Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye. 

Her advice has never felt more prescient.

Does a fish stink from the head?

The phrase ‘a fish stinks from the head’ is a common expression that refers to the criticality of leadership in organizations. Typically, it’s used when strategies are failing and direction is unclear. The implication is that those at the top need to shape up, demonstrating the commitment and behaviors that are required to get back on track. At root, it’s founded on the notion that those in positions of authority are central to success and have a responsibility to lead from the front.

And I agree. Taken as a whole, the expression contains an underlying truth that we do well to remember. But like all aphorisms, it’s also a simplification, and if followed too literally can blind us to other, more subtle, aspects of leadership that are just as vital to maximizing performance.  Not the least of these is listening to the well of talent, experience, care, and attention that’s embedded in those with less senior positions.   

I was reminded of this last week when reading the summary of the report into the holding of parties at the center of UK government during the strict lockdowns of 2020.  At the time I was living in London and can well understand the anger of the British public at the apparent disregard of the rules by their elected leaders. The idea that the lockdown applied only to the ‘little people’ is classic ‘stink from the head’ behavior. 

But it was a line about the fear of speaking up that caught my eye. What the report also highlights, is that not everyone working in Downing Street was happy with the slack attitude of those at the top. One especially relevant passage states:

Some staff members wanted to raise concerns about behaviors they witnessed at work, but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it.”

This is bang on the money, and while shocking that it should be the case in central government—where presumably, the vast majority of employees will be highly intelligent and astute individuals—it is not uncommon in many organizations. The result is that their talent and experience, and perhaps most importantly, what I referred to earlier than their ‘care and attention is lost to any assessment of the overall direction of travel. At worst, this can result in tragedies far greater than the fallout of a political scandal.

In the 1990s Korean airlines had one of the worst safety records in the world, despite having well-trained pilots and the same planes as equivalent companies across the globe. Flight recordings of high-profile crashes demonstrated that communication in the cockpit was shaped by a cultural hierarchy that meant subordinates were unwilling to question those in authority.  Even when fuel levels became critically low, co-pilots of the now infamous Avianca 52 fight to JFK airport did not directly challenge or inform the captain who in his tunnel vision had lost sight of these critical details.  The plane crashed just outside New York.

The history of the Korean airways has been well documented, with popular summaries in Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers and Mathew Syed’s, excellent Black Box Thinking. What’s relevant here, is that to solve the crisis, Korean airlines embarked on a program designed to ensure that all on the flight deck had a voice, and were able to speak up when they had concerns. What’s more, their speaking out was to be seen not as a problematic challenge to authority, but a positive contribution to the overall safety and success of the mission. 

In the case of passenger airlines, the need for coordination and collective contribution seems obvious to us now. Indeed, the hierarchical deference of Korea was always much less of a problem in those cultures (such as the US) where there is a lower prevalence of what is sometimes known as ‘power-distance’.  But as the recent report into the UK government—and countless examples of company failures—demonstrates, there’s still a long way to go in ensuring free-flowing communications up and down organizations.

The reality is that large companies are just as complex to steer as an airliner, or for that matter Ten Downing Street or the President’s Office. The need, therefore, to pay attention to the concerns of those closest to the implementation of decisions is absolutely vital.  No leader has all the answers; even the best can become distracted or fixated; their very distance from subordinates can distort perspective and lead to well-meant but wildly misconceived judgments.

This is why it’s equally vital that we have cultures and values which counteract these tendencies. The worst boardrooms are not necessarily those lacking in experience, it’s those that are echo chambers, reinforcing the perspectives of a single leader or an elite few. The history of the last thundered years is one in which the reach of communications has proliferated beyond any recognition, and yet so many of its worst tragedies—from the First World war to the Great Depression to China’s Cultural Revolution, to name but a few—could all have been avoided had subordinates spoken out sooner. 

Of course, those speaking must also listen. Somewhat ironically, given the title of this post, fish do not have ears as such, but they do have intense sensitivity to sound and vibrations around them—in some species, it’s integral to their bones! No doubt UK Premier Boris Johnson wishes that he’d listened more to the concerns of those in his own office – for a politician supposedly in touch with the people, his oversight is astonishing. Whether he’d have paid attention is a question that most of those who sit in judgment on him will now answer for themselves. What’s beyond doubt is that in his laxity he’s lost control, and that regaining it may well be beyond him. 

There are lessons here for us all.

4 Principles For Adaptive Leadership

When considering the qualities needed to lead an organization, especially in times of disruption and uncertainty, the ability to adapt is often one of the most coveted qualities for leaders. As such, I’ve reflected on the tremendous amount of change and adversity that we have collectively faced as a result of the challenging but necessary COVID-19 lockdowns. In the past months, just as businesses were on the cusp of returning to the office and resuming normal routines, the Delta variant quickly demanded laborers and managers to alter their course and reconsider how to keep employees safe.

This is only one of the more recent examples of the disruption we have experienced in the past two tumultuous years. Factors like variants and spikes in infections make it apparent that this need for an adaptable and responsive approach to leadership will continue to be the norm. But one thing that will impede progress and growth is panic. With this in mind, I believe that leaders and managers must take a step back to look at the full-wide picture before proceeding with new strategies moving forward. 

But simply being able to “adapt” or showing “adaptive actions” is not enough: organizations that wish to employ an adaptive leadership style must cultivate a few key characteristics to ensure optimal performance. In recent years, many business leaders have realized that the single-figure, top-down leadership model is outdated and impractical. No single person can solve every problem, which brings in the need for adaptive and collaborative leadership.

While leadership styles have been transformed over time throughout the years, adaptive leadership, in particular, embraces learning and continuous growth. Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to try new tactics to solve problems. They should also encourage innovation and creativity from their employees, even if the solutions don’t always work.

Let’s go over the 4 principles to guide adaptive leadership: 

  1. Leading Through Reflection

Reflection is both an internal and external process that promotes self-awareness, understanding, and improved critical thinking skills. Learning to be present, aware, and attentive to our experience and interactions with people throughout the day is an important element of adaptive leadership.

  1. Developing Clear Organizational Purpose

Studies and surveys demonstrate that organizations founded on strong social values have more engaged teams, attract talent at less cost, have increased employee retention rates, and enjoy more positive customer relations and brand reputation. Leadership in the next decade will require greater attention to these issues, not only as a requisite of political correctness but as a means to drive performance.

  1. Cultivating an Unbiased Mindset

An ideal group leader should take a selfless and unbiased approach to leadership and credit the company’s success to the contributions of every member and not himself alone. As such, leaders should never let personal desires and feelings interfere with decisions associated with the group and should source collective views from members of their team before taking any action.

  1. Leading With Empathy

Employees will be more committed to the success of the company if they feel inspired by leadership. A successful company generally boasts a roster of employees who enjoy working there. Giving employees a voice, equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed, and inspiring them to drive the company forward is beneficial to the company at large. 

Thinking The Unthinkable

Across Europe and North America, political leaders are beginning to think the unthinkable. Two years ago, the suggestion that we would need medical passes to travel, attend events, or enter a restaurant, would have been shuddered at. Today these measures are commonplace, and the scope of sanctions for those who won’t play ball is getting ever wider. What’s more, the prospect of mandatory vaccination— a line that none of us could have imagined would be crossed—is now considered by many to be both necessary and urgent.

My interest here is not so much in arguing for a particular path, as in exploring how we best find a way through. Whatever our views on the rights and wrongs of the options, we cannot simply shirk the debate—for like the virus, it is already out there. The implications for the role of leaders—and the values they espouse—are therefore profound. 

But first, let me return briefly to the pandemic. 

There is a long and deeply held tradition in liberal democracies that compulsory medical treatment is a line we do not cross. Citizens it is claimed, have the right to make their own decisions about their bodies, even if they make objectively poor ones. The role of the State is to provide information and even to persuade, but (with a few extreme exceptions) not to compel, either directly or indirectly through the imposition of coercive sanctions.  

And in normal circumstances, most of us would agree.

But in times of crisis, the contrary view would home in on that word ‘citizen’. Our societies are collective endeavors and cannot be meaningfully reduced to supposedly independent individuals. Free riders who take of society’s benefits without appropriate contribution are universally disparaged. Furthermore, in the democratic West, there’s an equally long and deeply held tradition that the exercise of our liberty should always be limited to the extent it impinges on the freedom of others. 

And so, we have a values stand-off. On the one hand, there is the sense that there ought to be limitations to the State. On the other, growing anger that the actions of a minority are impacting our collective wellbeing. It’s a classic political and moral dilemma: the idea of medical compulsion is uncomfortable, but so too are the restrictions that everyone must endure because of a resistant minority.

What does all this mean for leadership?

I believe it was right for our governments to first pursue a strategy based on information and persuasion. Good leadership does not seek out conflict for its own sake and if momentum can be achieved without confrontation then so much the better. In this regard, trust in both the messages and the messengers is essential, and sadly, politics being what it is, this has been undermined all too often. 

It seems to me that the values which are typical of most progressive companies would have been excellent creeds for our politicians to have lived by: transparency, togetherness, speed and service to others… these, and many similar standards, will be familiar to anyone with experience of modern organizations.

But what if persuasion is not enough?

Over the last few weeks, we have seen countries in Europe and jurisdictions here in the US take increasingly strident lines. Austria will compel vaccinations from early next year while Germany is openly discussing similar measures; in France, the pass sanitaire is becoming essential for all but the most basic of needs. Even in the UK, one of the most reluctant countries in this regard, there is no mention of the need for a national debate. 

And surely here is where leadership has the most crucial role to play. 

For it is essential, in these circumstances, that leaders proactively facilitate an inclusive discussion, ensuring all sides have the opportunity to speak their truth. This process should not be used to delay decisions or abnegate responsibility for their taking, nor should it be the genesis of a fudge that pleases no one. Rather, it’s about using leadership as means to respectful understanding, which more than anything requires careful listening and consideration—before then acting decisively.  

And in that regard, the positive consequences of the action that’s chosen should also be made clear. In leading through divisive issues, we have a responsibility to set out a ‘roadmap of rewards’, showing the milestones ahead and the benefits that will be shared on reaching them. There will always be a resistant few, but our best hope of reaching out to those who are not entirely inflexible is by being transparent about the critical junctions and decision points we face. If progress is not as we had hoped, leaders might reasonably commit to revisit and reconsider in light of those circumstances. 

But a word of warning here. That willingness to reconsider should not be at the expense of a steadfast determination to follow a chosen path. Ultimately, no decision of this sort can be scientifically proven. As leaders, we must at times rely on ‘value judgements’ and the clue to the best of these is in the name. Decisions arrived at with sound reasoning and rooted in commonly held standards and are not guaranteed to succeed, but having made them, we should hold firm until evidence suggests otherwise. 

It’s often said that we are all leaders, and in the context of complex organizations this is undoubtedly true in the sense that we must each take responsibility for our actions. This must not, however, be misinterpreted as permission to act the maverick or undermine policies that have been fairly talked through. Leadership at an individual level is about actively contributing to a collective success even if the strategy is one that you might prefer to be different. If that policy is too far removed from your own values, then it’s time to move on. 

If that is difficult to contemplate, it is but a precursor to some issues we may soon have to face. I sense the next few months are likely to see us in political and moral territories that were unimaginable not so long ago. At times like these, leaders are wise to remember Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, which reminds us to …trust yourself when all men doubt you/ But make allowance for their doubting too…   Whatever paths we chose, I sense, like the crossing of the Rubicon, that there will be no going back. Perhaps more than anything these moments require us to show bravery, by which I mean courage of the sort that seldom wins medals but often wins wars— the sort that listens, considers, and ultimately act in accordance with our values.