Sandy’s “Leading” Thoughts

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I wanted to give you two stories about both Tom Watson Jr. who headed up IBM and Thomas Edison. These stories both illustrate the characteristic of leadership that true leaders must have:

Tom Watson Jr., CEO of IBM between 1956 and 1971, was a key figure in the information revolution. Watson repeatedly demonstrated his abilities as a leader, never more so than in this first short story.

A young executive had made some bad decisions that cost the company several million dollars. He was summoned to Watson’s office, fully expecting to be dismissed. As he entered the office, the young executive said, “I suppose after that set of mistakes you will want to fire me.” Watson was said to have replied,

“Not at all, young man, we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you.”

(Source: Edgar Schein in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership)


The second story provides a strong message of support and a reminder that some of the most powerful lessons we can learn are from our so-called failures or difficult times.

Remember Thomas Edison’s famous saying: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison also demonstrated a great response to adversity which compliments Watson Jr’s actions.

When his factory was burned down, with much of his life’s work inside, Edison said:

“There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

A characteristic of leadership is to see things differently. Seeing mistakes as an investment in learning. Seeing that, even in disaster, you can start anew.

Think about these two stories as you go about your week.


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