The Wisdom of Failure | Laurence G. Weinzimmer

Summary of: The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price
By: Laurence G. Weinzimmer


The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price by Laurence G. Weinzimmer sheds light on the powerful lessons that can be learned from the failures of leaders. In this summary, you will discover how leaders like Alexander the Great honed their skills by reframing complex problems, building alliances, establishing new identities, and manipulating symbols to achieve incredible success. Through various examples, you will gain a thorough understanding of these principles and their relevance in terms of leadership and management in today’s dynamic corporate landscapes.

Four Fundamentals of World-Changing Leadership

Great leaders are not just reactive, they proactively change the world by reframing problems, building alliances, establishing new identities, and manipulating symbols. The legendary Alexander the Great was a master at all four approaches. When faced with a powerful navy threat, he reframed the problem as a land battle and won by poisoning the enemy’s water source. He also recognized the importance of building coalitions and forging alliances instead of just eliminating his enemies. Alexander was also able to create and instill new identities for himself and his subjects. Lastly, he manipulated symbols to his advantage and knew how to gain the power of people’s obeisance. Great leaders can change the world, not just by reacting to it, but by proactively rescaling, influencing and making a mark in history.

Alexander’s Reframing Tactics

Alexander, despite having only a few cavalry and infantry, faced King Porus’ army with 200 elephants, strong cavalry, and numerous infantrymen. The Indian king’s army was much bigger and well-equipped, but Alexander turned the elephants against King Porus, using his mounted troops to draw the King’s cavalry into a trap. He then ordered his best archers to eliminate the elephants’ handlers, making them uncontrollable. The archers blinded the elephants, and men with spears wounded them. Hurt, blind, and without handlers, the elephants charged around, causing King Porus’ army to break ranks. Alexander reframed the problem, letting King Porus destroy himself.

Alexander’s Sacrifice

Alexander’s army was weighed down by the amount of plunder they had gained, so he set fire to it. He then invited his officers and men to do the same and lighten the load. Alexander didn’t demand more sacrifice from his troops than he had made himself. This contrasted with most corporate compensation schemes and layoff policies, where leaders don’t share in the sacrifices they demand from their employees.

Innovative Solutions for Downsizing

Alexander’s innovative solution to settle wounded and discharged veterans in conquered territories can be utilized by business leaders to downsize their workforce. The approach suggests establishing new ventures staffed with former employees, where the corporation could retain equity interests in the new ventures while the former employees could also share in the ownership.

Alexander’s Leadership

Alexander the Great faced a difficult decision after his army expressed their fatigue and desire to return home. Rather than punishing the rebels, Alexander took responsibility for the situation and announced his decision to take the army home. By doing so, he maintained his command presence and the loyalty of his troops. This demonstrates a unique leadership style that prioritizes the welfare of the soldiers and takes responsibility for challenging decisions.

Alexander the Great’s Success Strategy

Alexander’s successful conquest of the Rock of Aronos in Persia highlights his ability to reframe problems and reject conventional wisdom. This skill was crucial to his accomplishments, which include conquering the greatest empire in the world, promoting a common language and culture, and revolutionizing trade. Jack Welch applied a similar approach to General Electric by challenging leaders to redefine their industries and establish themselves as market leaders to achieve long-term growth.

Strategic Wait and Strike

Alexander the Great faced the challenge of crossing the Indus River to counter King Porus’s army. Porus took advantage of the fast-moving waters of the river and continuously shadowed Alexander’s troop until he decided to put garrisons at the possible river crossings and gave them elephants to discourage cavalry horses from crossing. Alexander waited patiently for the right opportunity and under the cover of darkness, he marched half of his troop away from the main body, moved after rainstorms to avoid raising dust and floated across the river buoyed by air-filled goatskins. They defeated a small local garrison, killed and buried its elephant and brought their horses across the river. The lesson here is clear for corporate leaders – bide your time until the opponent relaxes, then strike. Polaroid adopted this strategy when a competitor infringed on their patent. Instead of immediately suing, they patiently waited for the opponent to establish a sound market position before taking legal actions, winning a settlement in the billion-dollar range and forcing the competitor to withdraw.

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