The 21st Century Executive: Innovative Practices for Building Leadership at the Top

By Rob Silzer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Deciphering Executive
Failures

Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld

We are surrounded with recipes for leadership success. Publications ranging from popular periodicals to scholarly journals and all forms of electronic media map out accessible-seeming paths to the top. Despite these inspirational tales of triumph, rare is the life saga without its hardships. When we consider the proud autobiographies of chief executive officers such as Mean Business by Al Dunlap of Sunbeam and Odyssey by John Sculley of Apple, we are reminded of the fleeting nature of fame. No sooner had these books been shipped to the bookstores than the debris that caused the ultimate career derailment of each of these leaders began to surface.

Great leaders are not protected by their renown once they reach the top. Despite their great vaults of resources they become vulnerable because they are seen as having painted a bull's-eye target on themselves while becoming more careless, and even reckless. This theme of caution at times of triumph appeared prominently in the great Kinks ballad “Celluloid Heroes”:

Everybody's a dreamer, everybody's a star,
Everybody's in showbiz, it doesn't matter who you are.
For those who are successful, be always on your guard,
For success walks hand in hand with failure along Holly-
wood Boulevard.

-3-

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