Some tough leadership lessons learned in 2016…

Courageous stories from our CEO and CMO communities


What a year! It was certainly filled with tough leadership lessons.

From Volkswagen’s ongoing recovery from its emissions scandal to revelations about Wells Fargo’s fraudulent consumer accounts, 2016 hasn’t been short on corporate missteps. In certain cases, leaders immediately admitted fault and changed course. Others denied, deflected, and delayed.

It has always been important for business leaders to openly admit their misjudgments to their teams and stakeholders—that’s the only way to avoid facing the same drama in the future. By fits and starts, the business world is coming around to embracing vulnerability, empathy, and transparency, even if we still have a way to go.

I felt it was important to shift our attention to what we learned last year—not just what went wrong. That is why I showcased 6 courageous leaders who are willing to share their tough lessons. You can read more about them in my FastCompany blog. They outline their biggest mistake of 2016, and what they learned from it.

C-suite executives from these companies contributed insights:

  • Medical Electronic Systems
  • QASymphony (one of our clients)
  • Lemi Shine
  • ButcherBox
  • ShipBob

We simply ran out of space in our post to showcase every leader who responded. Here are some other comments I received, which also contain rich leadership lessons:

Don’t let office space cramp your culture

“UserIQ doubled in size in the first half of 2016. It took a while to expand our office space and we were temporarily packed together in tight quarters. It was cramped, but communication flowed well, particularly for new employees.”

“After we expanded to a larger office space, we were more comfortable, but communication didn’t flow as well: the performance KPIs from our newest cohort of business development representatives (BDRs) dropped by about 35%.”

Aaron Aycock, CEO and co-founder, UserIQ

“My biggest mistake was not preparing for the impact our growth would have on communication. We immediately changed the way we communicate. We started by ensuring that each team is available via Slack and Google Docs. Most importantly, in 2017, we will be intentional about communication throughout the company with a cadence of weekly leadership team meetings, monthly all-hands meetings, and quarterly off-site strategy sessions.” – Aaron Aycock, CEO and co-founder, UserIQ (note: they are one of our clients)

More is not always better

Jason Johnson, CEO of August Home, a smart home solutions provider, reminds us that sacrificing quality for speed can have very negative consequences. “We launched three new products simultaneously. In hindsight, that was a lot to ship at once. We could not deliver on the superior level of quality our customers expect from us.”

Jason Johnson, CEO of August Home

“Six months after shipping the doorbell camera, we are just now at feature parity with our competition. Had we staggered the launch of each of those products and shipped the camera later in the year, we would have had less revenue but higher customer satisfaction.”

“In 2017, we will ship fewer new products and spend more of our resources making our current products even better. When a product is missing features at launch, customers will give the product a bad rating on Amazon or in the app stores. Good reviews are priceless, bad reviews are expensive. It takes time and money to educate consumers that you solved their issues.”

Marginal team development leads to financial distress

Jim Martin, CEO of financial advisory firm ACM Capital Management, hired a CFO for one of ACM’s West Coast portfolio companies, and assumed they had the tools and structure to succeed. He was wrong, and paid a hefty price for it.

Jim Martin, CEO of ACM Capital Management

“By not enhancing or improving the leader in this area, we later discovered what a poor job he had done. In fact, it adversely impacted our relationship with the bank and our investors. After we terminated the CFO, I discovered something else. Although we had increased revenues $15M year over year, we were still losing substantial money. The CFO was hiding the losses. The cost to replace this CFO was $1M just in the first year alone, because we had to bring in two senior accounting professionals to clean up the mess.”

“In 2017, we will be incorporating a much more rigorous recruiting system that not only asks for references from a candidate’s boss, but also from their former direct reports. We are committed to doing the necessary digging. It all goes back to hiring slow and firing fast.”

Which of these tough leadership lessons will best influence and inform your plans for 2017? Share your comments below.

Here is the link to the FastCompany post. Feel free to share it with your community.

Other posts you will enjoy:

How Big Data will Transform Event Performance – Guest Post from Oni Chukwu, CEO of etouches

3 Subtle Ways Work Culture Turns NegativeHuffingtonPost

5 Rules For Winning Over The C-SuiteFastCompany

Copyright 2017, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Comments open: True

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