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Thought Leadership

Adam Bryant

Question your successes as much as your failures

November 16, 2022

When the high-fives are over, it’s important to interrogate the reasons behind your wins.

We are rapidly approaching the three-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic. Anybody running a business during this period has experienced the stomach-churning ride of this roller-coaster economy—the freefall at the outset, followed by surging demand, and now, with the war in Ukraine, the likelihood of a global slowdown. The leaders who have managed through these turbulent times have learned a lot about how to navigate crises. But strengthening muscles for dealing with uncertainty can mean less time for another crucial leadership discipline: interrogating the how and why behind a success.

What did you do to pull it off? Can it be replicated? What did you learn?

It’s an exercise that many leaders I’ve interviewed talked up even before the pandemic. “I’ve learned to question success a lot more than failure,” said Kat Cole, who is the president and chief operating officer of Athletic Greens, a nutrition company. As she told me in an interview years ago, “I’ll ask more questions when sales are up than I do when they’re down. I ask more questions when things seem to be moving smoothly, because I’m thinking: ‘There’s got to be something I don’t know. There’s always something.’ This approach means that people don’t feel beat up for failing, but they should feel very concerned if they don’t understand why they’re successful.”

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The ExCo Group’s Adam Bryant wrote this article for his column in Strategy + Business.