Failing Forward: If You Want Success, Suck It Up

By Michael Willard

To say that my bromides on success hold sway over your prized verbal bon mots would appropriate an arrogance I only have when tippling too much after winning a sawbuck on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

It boils down to try, succeed, fail, and repeat the cycle to the beat of one of those dances we older folks remember from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The Funky Chicken was a good one, though tiring.

Really, you’re talking to someone who dropped a couple million dollars in ad agency time and $400,000 in cash over seven years in publishing a magazine that not one month made a profit. Didn’t come close.

My gosh, I bought an ad and PR agency in Eastern Europe in 1998 on the cusp of a devastating economic crisis that cratered the economy and sent smart money high-tailing it for safe harbors.

I’m not going to now reveal that everything turned up roses. It didn’t. My posterior was often puckered, and I could have bottled my sweat and sold it to science for a psycho DNA study .

But, going back to the cliche: Try, fail, try again, fail, try — all the while making sure you lock up sharp objects and any fire arms more lethal than a cap gun as you work to maintain sanity and profit.

Fact is, the magazine, The Ukraine Observer, staked out our territory, enhanced our reputation as serious players, and brought in a ton of non-magazine related business over time. Besides, it was fun.

The agency itself, once we got our footing, hummed such that we won international accounts, and opened offices in Russian and Turkey to go along with our Ukraine business.

On paper, I had a lot of money, but that’s a fool’s gamut in risky markets. But, it’s good while it lasts.

So, before you drift off to sleep, I will let you in on the worst kept secrets of our success:

  1. There are always options. No matter how difficult the problem, rarely do situations have a single solution. As dim as the light gets, it still provides a glow.
  2. Speaking of light, lighten up. Others have faced the management/life/leadership problem that confronts you. Optimism trumps pessimism, though skepticism tempers foolishness.
  3. Be aware of your management limitations–and then set out to exceed them. You don’t need a “how-to” book for this. Just stretch your imagination.
  4. Politics is a mistress of business, as much as that of government. Remember to think to the third and fourth possibilities and not just to the immediate result. This will save money, time and embarrassment.
  5. Chasing dreams is part of what I call Galaxy Thinking. But be able to recognize a nightmare. There is nothing more foolish than thinking big, talking big, and consistently failing. This is usually because someone lacked the resources, energy, or plain stick-to-it concentration to accomplish a goal.
  6. Think about how an employee’s wife or husband will react to a certain event, situation, new initiative that confronts the partner. This is extraneous, but keep it in mind. It’s important.
  7. Don’t be a workaholic. Workaholics are bores and generally suck ups. Work hard. There are 24-hours in a day but be smart about your time. Work doesn’t have to be defined in eight hour segments.
  8. Set the example. Make sure you shine when appearing in situations where your employees will judge you. You want them to feel pride in the boss.
  9. Take calculated risks. You need the edge and your employees need the excitement of change. The ability to accept change, and be in the forefront of it, defines leadership.
  10. Value age and experience. Never cast off an employee who wants to work because he or she reached a certain arbitrary age. Retirement is an invention of the 20th Century.
  11. Vacations: Take them and urge your employees to do the same. Anyone who doesn’t take a vacation probably is lousy at family life. I admit to being guilty of this early on.
  12. Visualize. More is accomplished with daydreams than night dreams. Dream in Technicolor and Dolby Sound. Creativity is not merely a gift. Shakespeare had a gift. You need to have grit.
  13. Add to your life’s portfolio. It will make you a better manager. At age 49, I took up oil painting. A writer, I penned my first business book, “Dancing with the Bear: Crisis Management in Eastern Europe” at 53. That led to eight more business books and seven novels. At 68, I took up songwriting.
  14. Pace yourself. It’s a journey. I have had five different careers: Journalist, political majordomo to a US Senate leader, political campaign consultant, entrepreneur, international public relations executive and international business owner.

And, I will add, I’m just getting started.

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I am a novelist, painter, songwriter and essayist but my day job is elevating the profile of authors, entertainers and business executives.

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