“in an armchair in the small dining room. He looked up and said, ‘What have you come here for?’ He had the strangest look on his face, and the question was pretty strange to….”The shock of failure was apparently too much even for Stalin. He feared the war was already lost and thought the politburo had come to kill him.
It reminded me of many less dramatic examples of leaders who fail to respond or adapt to failure. Our current administration is the most dramatic example. But even in business, it seems, that leaders have a hard time recognizing that what they are doing just isn’t working.
This seems to be particularly true for leaders who have long history of success, or even just having their way. They have become so accustomed to the world conforming to their will that when a person or circumstances defy them, they are paralyzed into inaction or more commonly, a repetition of the very actions that got them into trouble in the first place.
Our current administration again comes to mind.
But so do many of the managers and leaders I’ve worked for or around. They were great leaders when things were going well, but when the wheel of fortune turned against them, they were unable to change strategy or tactics. They continued to push the same rock up the hill, regardless of the number of times it rolled back down on them. They seemed convinced that the problem wasn’t their methods or misjudgment or changed conditions, but lack of energy or will. All they had to do was the same thing again, but this time, harder, faster, better.
Everyone knows it’s hard to change, particularly when your way has worked well for so long. But the inability to change course seems a particular vice of strong leadership.
Stalin famously regained his nerve and appeared four months later in Moscow, during the anniversary of the October revolution, defiantly watching the traditional parade with the German army only a couple dozen miles away. In the intervening months, Stalin had developed a new and more ruthless strategy that would defeat the Nazis--though at an enormous cost. It was Hitler who ultimately got stuck in Russia, unable to imagine a world that could stop his invincible army. Like so many leaders before him, he would undermine his own success and drain away his resources through an insane repetition of failing strategies.