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What Leaders can Learn from Viagra

Humans have long sought ways to extend life and libido.

But did you know the discovery of Viagra was a mistake?

What was at the time a giant stuff-up has resulted in many happy people (and a resounding success) since.

But this was not always the case.

The breakthrough did not occur as a result of researchers experimenting with ways to make men more manly.

Instead, the discovery happened while testing sildenafil as a cure for hypertension and heart disease.

After two phases of testing, researchers came to the conclusion the drug failed to show promising results for the heart. Epic fail on that front.

BUT test subjects noted, well, it did wonders for other parts of the anatomy. Bingo!

So what does Viagra have to do with leadership?

We have a lot to learn from the story of Viagra’s discovery.

As leaders, our relationship with failure is usually a harsh and merciless one.

Organisations are,  for the most part, very unforgiving when it comes to failure.

You only have to look at the CEO graveyard, littered with leaders who didn’t ‘perform’ for merely one year of poor results, to see this phenomenon in action.

We all know mistakes are a mechanism for growth and learning – so why is this belief so lacking in corporate culture?

The measure of a company’s success is normally a short-term, myopic focus, where financial results are the primary indicator.

We need to change the way we view failure.
We need to take a leaf out of my son’s school which teaches “mistakes are how we learn.”

The door to my son's classroom is a simple reminder of the value of mistakes.

The door to my son’s classroom is a simple reminder of the value of mistakes.

We need to change our response when there’s a hiccup or a monumental stuff up.

Repeated mistakes and ongoing poor performance are another matter altogether.

But there are countless missed opportunities for learning, growth and discovery, merely because leaders view mistakes and failure as inherently bad.

Can you relate to this?

When someone in your team makes a mistake, or when something goes wrong, what is your response?

What do you notice about how mistakes are treated in your organisation?

Is there calm and considered exploration of the root causes, in order to understand and learn from the situation, or is there a witch hunt and blame game?

Do you think there needs to be a paradigm shift? 

I would love to hear your thoughts – please leave your comments in the space provided below.

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2 Comments

  1. Lynne Banks on March 27, 2014 at 3:13 am

    Very attention grabbing headline Miz Suzi haha

    Lynne Banks
    Sales Director – NZ & International
    Bell Tea & Coffee Company
    DD: +649 274 2863
    MOB: +6421 506 280
    Email: [email protected]
    http://www.btcc.co.nz

    [Description: BELL LOGO cropped.jpg]

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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