Every industry has professionals with success stories, and others who have tales of their failures. But what causes someone to fail in one industry won't necessarily cause them to fail in another.
We talked to some of our leading executives to get their opinion on what makes someone fail in their industry.
Here's what they have to say on the topic:
Jon Weisblatt, Global Business Development Executive
The kind of person that fails in my industry is one who won't actively listen to what customers are telling them about what they need and value, insisting that they know better. It's very easy to sell or market an existing solution and move on to the next opportunity if there's not an immediate "yes" or clear fit. While that's appropriate in some circumstances, not taking the discussion a little further will eventually limit how far that individual can go in their career and can put blinders on where the company and its products/solutions can go.
Those who find the most success are people who take the time to understand why a customer pushes back, what their pain points really are, and can offer both immediate relief as well as a longer-term plan to address all of their issues. Most customers are willing to hear the pitch, but they also want to be heard. Listening and empathy leads to loyalty and patience.
And if one customer can articulate an acute pain, chances are others have it as well, which only helps marketing and product unlock better programs and solutions.
Jon Weisblatt is a global business development executive with 20+ years' experience in B2B technology, marketing, sales, and partner development. He has developed and implemented programs that have reduced customer acquisition cost (CAC) to almost $0. His most recent position was leading a strategic relationships team for an e-commerce marketplace in the transportation/logistics space.
Steve Barriault, Global Technology Sales Leader
What type of person fails in embedded software (or software in general for that matter)? The arrogant ones.
You know precisely who I am talking about.
That salesperson that constantly boasts how aggressive he is—and leaves a trail of disgruntled team members in his wake, both in his department and in others (and sometimes with clients, too). That field engineer that believes he or she knows the craft much better than anyone else and goes out of his or her way to make it known, belittling colleagues in the process.
They fail because our field is way too vast for anyone to understand how everything works. Software is the land of the million solutions. No solution is truly commoditized, and customization of all sorts abound.
If you are a field engineer, it becomes even more daunting—each environment or challenge you encounter will be different from the previous one. Because of this, field engineers need to be like doctors. They need outside consults at times. They often need to address problems as a team and leverage the synergies of their respective knowledge.
Even teams of one engineer need to do it. Want proof? Just look at how popular Stack Overflow is. It contains questions from individual developers and a massive chest of answers volunteered by peers—for free. Arrogance stands in the way of that type of collaboration. Being too arrogant may cause you to adopt a lesser solution and prevent you from honing your skills to their fullest.
For sales and business development pros in my field, arrogance obliterates trust, the essential currency of any business relationship. Let us be frank: many of our clients already have a stereotyped vision of what a salesperson is—and it is not pretty. Clients may even try to ensure a cocky salesperson loses.
In one particularly glaring example I remember, the salesperson that went to a customer before us tried to teach (very snobbishly) what the client should do. Or so the client told us, before giving us the contract. Because, you see, we actually listened to their needs first.
None of this should be construed as an encouragement to practice false humility. You don't want the client to feel you don't trust your solutions. But as the great Greek philosopher Socrates put it, "You need to know what you do not know." And building trust internally and externally means not being perceived as a jerk. So, leave your arrogance at home.
Steve Barriault is a global technology sales executive with 18+ years of experience in business development on three continents. He is currently serving in a 3,000 employee-strong company providing embedded software testing solutions in multiple industries such as automotive, avionics, industrial systems, telecom, and others. Multilingual, he holds advanced degrees in business, science, and computer science.
Susan Leys, Healthcare Coach, Consultant, And Career Navigator
The type of person who fails in healthcare is the person who does not have a strong "why" about why they decided to become a healthcare professional.
Throughout your career, you will make mistakes and experience challenges daily. You will need to think analytically and critically in frequently stressful situations that also require insight, knowledge, compassion, and tact. In acute care departments such as emergency departments, intensive care units, or neonatal intensive care units, your patients' status may change daily. If you don't know your "why," the compassion and authenticity necessary to have conversations with patients and families will be difficult.
There is a flow to working in healthcare, which is impressive to witness when you are with a top-notch team that is cohesive and collaborative. Whether it's preparing for a code or helping your colleagues transition patients through your department, the more adaptable and flexible you are, the easier your relationships with your team will be and the more successful you will be in your career.
Additionally, as hospitals don't close, you will most likely be asked to work on a holiday. The more prepared you are in deciding which holidays you are willing to cover, or which shifts you are ready to cover, the easier it will be to accommodate the members of your team who prefer to work different holidays or shifts. The patients and families in your care probably don't want to be in your hospital during Christmas either, so the more grounded you are in the decisions you make, the easier it will be to provide care for them.
A healthcare career can be extremely stressful and overwhelming, especially when there is a pandemic, threats of hurricanes or floods, and fires affecting our nation.
Here are five ways you can manage your stress during the difficult days ahead:
- Remember your "why": why you became a healthcare professional and the lessons you have learned and the success you've had throughout your career.
- In healthcare, the term "leadership" is relative; anyone can be a leader. In high-stress situations, remain grounded and model the leadership necessary for your team to navigate your shift successfully.
- Check in with your team: ask them how they are doing and if they're okay. Peer support in healthcare is essential and can be easily done when you are all together at the end of your shift.
- Take care of yourself: make sure you get enough rest, nutrition, exercise, support, and spend quality time with your family and friends.
- Be mindful of how stress affects you: if your stress is physical (such as muscle tension, body aches, pain, or difficulty sleeping), talk to a healthcare provider, or use physical coping strategies (such as relaxation, massage, or meditation) to manage them. If your stress is manifested emotionally or psychologically, consider writing down your feelings (or video blogging), speaking to your employee assistance provider, counselor, coach, or spiritual support to let them know how you feel. Most importantly, know that help is available for you.
Rosanne Mao, CFO/Finance Director
The finance executive who lacks persistence and gives up too soon fails in the industry. Failure isn't permanent. Even if you're at a low point right now, that doesn't say anything about your talent or potential. Don't worry that failure will negatively impact your career. Instead, think of how it just might help.
Finance executives could fail if they are not persistent in learning new skills and developing leadership capabilities. Today, we look to finance leaders to embrace digital technologies and use data analytics to drive consistent and measurable growth for businesses. The CFO is perceived by the board of directors and CEO as a critical strategic business partner. Modern CFOs are expected to be key drivers of business innovation. But to successfully innovate, failure, not initial success, is the key...again and again.
Failure should be looked at as a long-term positive. When we succeed, we continue to do things exactly the same way. It's human instinct. If it isn't broken, why would you fix it? Evan Spiegel, Snapchat's co-founder, is the world's youngest billionaire. As an undergraduate at Stanford, his girlfriend broke up with him and his fraternity chapter was kicked off campus. The only user of his first company was his mom. "I really had nothing going on," he later said. His persistence went a long way, even when it felt like nothing went right.
Albert Einstein said, "If you've never failed, you've never tried something new."
Finance executives should allow employees who make mistakes to share what they've learned and what they'd do differently next time. By showcasing failure, you allow the staff to fail and learn together. Removing the stigma attached to failure will help create a workforce of innovators, and people willing to take risks on something different. Updated financial management tools are developed with the concern of business failure. Finance executives develop business continuity plans, the most important value a strategic CFO can deliver to the board and CEO. They manage financial risk to prevent loss, reduce costs, and improve margins.
Finance executives have the responsibility to drive business transformation and believe that failure leads to success. Put together a standardized set of financial metrics to share with the board of directors. Improve cash flow management and forecasting, and keep the board abreast of liquidity concerns. Increase the use of data analytics to drive improved decision making. We need to understand and conquer failure if we are ever to master success.
"After all, success is often just a moment—a goal fulfilled, soon to be replaced with new goals. But failure is the ambitious person's constant companion, often dogging us for months, years, or even decades before we finally reach our aim," the leadership coach Siimon Reynolds writes in Why People Fail.
Rosanne Mao is a CFO/finance director with more than 20 years of financial management experience in a multinational company. She's helped the company enhance cash flow, maximize corporate profitability, improve investor relationship, and reduce risk. Her leadership strategy has successfully driven company EBIT to increase by 15%. She has strategically led the enterprise digital transformation with 37% improvement in financial productivity.
Amy Hinderer, Business Management & Operations Executive
As humans, we have the desire to be successful in all facets of life, whether it be professional, emotional, spiritual, or physical. We also know that we are not perfect and are bound to fail at some point in our lives. Some individuals will learn from their failures and go on to be hugely successful while others continue in a downward spiral, unable to achieve their dreams. Why do these individuals fail and the others succeed? Here are a few of the top reasons why I believe people fail, regardless of their industry:
Lack of persistence - Quite simply, people give up too soon due to the obstacles encountered along the way. They lack the perseverance to continue and are unable to see their way forward.
Lack of belief/confidence - The "self-doubt" monster creeps into one's mind and affects their actions, causing them to question all that they do.
Failure to adapt/lack of flexibility - Individuals who want to maintain the "status quo" because of the "we've always done it this way" attitude will fail to learn and grow in new environments, especially the one we are currently experiencing.
Plays the blame game - When the situation goes bad, unsuccessful people like to blame others. They do not want to take accountability for their mistakes. It is easier for these individuals to attribute their failures to something outside of their control.
Avoids taking risks - It is easier to stay in one's comfort zone because taking risks means uncertainty, and uncertainty creates fear.
Fails to admit when they are wrong - These types of individuals view themselves as infallible. If they admit to mistakes, then this could be viewed as a sign of weakness and vulnerability and their leadership may be in question.
We all can be successful. Accept the fact that we are imperfect humans and know that it is an individual's choice on how they respond to failures that will determine their destiny.
I leave you with a thought from one of my favorite books by John Maxwell, Failing Forward. He believes, "the difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure."
Amy Hinderer is a business management & operations executive with 18+ years of experience in global enterprise and start-up businesses. She has managed teams ranging in size from 10 up through ~35K supporting revenues between $2M - $9B.
Andrea Bjorkman, HR Executive
In human resources today, it is imperative to understand that HR should be a business partner to the entire organization, and they represent the most essential asset—the people, or human capital. Gone are the days when HR was the "HR Police" and transactional, not strategic. An individual who is not able or willing to build relationships to become a trusted partner to leadership across the organization will not be successful.
I am a huge believer that the power of a team is the unique, individual strengths of its members. My best HR teams have the strengths identified in the CliftonStrengths in the Relationship Building Domain.
The strengths include:
These strengths are a combination of talent and intentional development of skills. I really like the practices or upskilling called out in the 9 Habits of People Who Build Extraordinary Relationships:
- Take the hit.
- Step in without being asked.
- Answer the question that's not being asked.
- Know when to dial back.
- Prove they think of others.
- Realize when they have acted poorly.
- Give consistently, receive occasionally.
- Value the message while always valuing the messenger.
- Start small...and are happy to stay small
Be aware daily of people in your organization or community who are relationship-building experts and ask them to mentor you. It doesn't matter their role or level or even their age. Then, learn and practice every day!
Andrea Bjorkman is an HR executive with broad-based business and HR experience. Most recently, she has taken her passion for innovative ideas to help meet underserved markets to her new role as Co-Founder/Managing Director (USA), Brand Knackstor Global, Blue Hour Moon Technologies Corp.
Chris Rankin, Marketing Executive
Marketing has historically been a difficult profession/industry to define success and failure around. Digital, email, direct mail, call campaigns, billboards, television, and radio all have different measurements around effectiveness and tracking attribution across these non-equivalent metrics, making calculating "return on investment" difficult. Brand as defined by every touchpoint a customer has in connection with the organization can include conversations and associations outside of an organization's direct control. To add to the fun, there is no universally accepted standard for calculating the worth of emotional brand equity, an essential component driving demand. So it is understandable that success and failure in this industry is also difficult to define with marketing success examples like Facebook (worth more than their financials) and marketing failures like Halliburton (still a multinational powerhouse despite the brand's poor public reputation).
Inattentional blindness, or tunnel vision, is especially dangerous for a marketing and advertising professional during an era that has been dubbed the "age of acceleration." The core of marketing and advertising is to make connections which requires attentiveness to changes and feedback. Think of it as a conversation—talking to yourself at best will get you a few raised eyebrows on the subway. Starting a conversation after buying a round for the table at happy hour will cause people to remember your name. However, if you buy a round for the table failing to notice half of them were designated drivers, then introduce a topic about raising kids failing to notice the group are a bunch of college kids on spring break, your successful tactic failed because you as an individual or brand were not attentive to who you were trying to interact with. Worse, time and technology has made people, even complete strangers, come to expect a level of familiarity from anyone that approaches them making your inattentiveness an insult.
Defining success and failure early is important. But in the marketing and advertising industry, metrics should be seen as baselines to larger aspirational and contextual definitions of success, otherwise tunnel vision can result in failure despite succeeding in meeting established metrics of success.
Here is the invisible gorilla exercise from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris studies on inattentional blindness (also linked above). Try it on your colleagues. Remember, this is an industry about connection; the goal is not how many people watch this or how many people see the gorilla. That would be tunnel vision, excluding the insight and opportunity of the other person's reaction to the content. Instead, consider success as eliciting a reaction that leads to additional back and forth down the line.
Chris Rankin is a marketing executive who specializes in brand and digital strategy. Her specialty is in reimagining e-commerce to deliver digital branding experiences that augment a customer's real world. She believes social influencers are the content creators brands should partner with and enable to achieve better targeting and authenticity. She holds 20 years in marketing experience for health, technology, and fashion with an MFA from the Academy of Art University and a BA from Principia College. She believes learning from each other is the fastest path to growth and she welcomes anyone interested in swapping stories.
Depending on what industry you're in, failure means different things. Failure in and of itself is not necessarily bad. But when we don't learn from those initial failures, it makes it that much harder to succeed.
We hope that whatever your job title, you follow the advice from the executives above. They obviously know what it takes to succeed in their industry, and their wisdom is especially timely.
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