Sometimes the theme of an article comes to me first, other times it’s the recipe at the end that grabs my attention. This time it was the title that came to me unbidden.
In one sense, this is my idealized view of how companies recognize their liabilities and change course. If a company is weak, it can’t suddenly become strong simply by wanting it. I’m reminded of a quote by David Maxwell, former CEO of Fannie Mae. In Good to Great he states, “Of course, we had to stop doing a lot of stupid things…” Simply recognizing one’s faults is the first act of courage. Fannie Mae’s rise to success is shared throughout the book, a rise which began with this courageous attitude.
At the other extreme, if a company is so strong that it threatens to steamroll everything in its path, how does that help anyone? Employees will feel the tension, vendors will feel the pressure, and eventually customers will feel it too. Knowing that you’re weak and that you need to change or die is one thing. But when you don’t even know your own strength, how will you change? Good to Great includes many examples of egotistical, selfish, oblivious, and even tyrannical CEOs who, while they delivered temporarily impressive financial results, left behind crippled organizations.
I’m confident that this theme also holds true in our own lives, often with the two extremes existing in each of us simultaneously. How often do the weak ask for courage before anything else? If you’re like me, during times of weakness you ask instead… that whatever is revealing your weakness be removed, or erased completely. Which reveals an even deeper weakness.
And when we feel strong? Everything is right with the world, we can do no wrong… until we do. Often we don’t realize the effects our actions or words have on others until it’s too late, and sometimes not even then. Our shortcomings are on full display, when a moment before we thought that we could do anything we wanted without fearing the consequences.
When we ask for courage, we open the door to incredible healing and encouragement. When we fail to ask for restraint, we can inadvertently create incredible suffering and anxiety.
The key – whether in business or in life – is to ask for courage and restraint continuously, every moment of every day. Any challenge we face in work can only be addressed one moment at a time, and that’s exactly how often we need to sharpen both edges of the sword. Once you begin reading Good to Great; you realize that at no point in the rise of any of the Good companies did the CEO sit everyone down and say, “Now is the time when we must all ask for courage.” It happened gradually. As for the not-so-Good companies in the study, there were probably many individuals who asked themselves and each other, “Shouldn’t someone do something to prevent (tyrannical CEO) from running (company) into the ground?” But by the time you censor yourself it’s already too late.
This will never be a test question on an MBA exam, because courage and restraint are not keys in search of buried treasure. They are two edges of a blade we must wield in defense of our own fears and assumptions. Keep this blade ever at the ready, and you’ll never have to apologize for hesitating to do the right thing.
What dish could be more deserving of a sharp knife than Prime Rib? If you’re going to do it, do it right. Check out Simply Recipes’ take on this classic here.