If we awoke one day with amnesia with life totally scrambled, would we have the same leaders? In his article, “The Turnaround Trap” (The New Yorker, March 25, 2013 edition), James Surowiecki discusses the ouster of Ron Johnson as CEO of J.C. Penney after his very successful stint at Target and finds that psychologists recognize:
. . . “the fundamental attribution error” – our tendency to ignore context and attribute an individual’s success or failure solely to inherent qualities.
Additionally, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Boris Groysberg, and Nitin Nohria include in their article “How to Hang On to Your High Potentials” (Harvard Business Review, October 2011 edition) under their heading “Align Development to Strategy” this conclusion:
. . . flexibility is key . . . companies that set rigid goals about the type or number of high potentials, instead of taking a dynamic approach, become complacent and don’t get much out of [high potential] programs.
If strategy is conditional and talent is conditional to strategy, then leadership talent is conditional too. However, we tend to ignore this. That’s why great players on losing teams are unlikely to receive “most valuable player” awards, why future CEO’s strive to lead hot, growing divisions, and why employment candidates from good companies receive preference.
We like to believe we have more control than we do. Attributing success directly to a person gives us comfort, security and certainty, providing clarity without having to integrate life’s fuzzy truths.
Thus, in rising to leadership do not underestimate the power in “being at the right place at the right time.” Surowiecki states this more negatively by concluding with this quote from Warren Buffett:
When a manager with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamentals, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.