Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam: 'A Leader Should Know How to Manage Failure'
Could you give an example, from your own experience, of how leaders should manage failure?
Let me tell you about my experience. In 1973 I became the project director of India's satellite launch vehicle program, commonly called the SLV-3. Our goal was to put India's "Rohini" satellite into orbit by 1980. I was given funds and human resources -- but was told clearly that by 1980 we had to launch the satellite into space. Thousands of people worked together in scientific and technical teams towards that goal.
By 1979 -- I think the month was August -- we thought we were ready. As the project
director, I went to the control center for the launch. At four minutes before the satellite launch, the computer began to go through the checklist of items that needed to be checked. One minute
later, the computer program put the launch on hold; the display showed that some control components were not in order. My experts -- I had four or five of them with me -- told me not to worry;
they had done their calculations and there was enough reserve fuel. So I bypassed the computer, switched to manual mode, and launched the rocket. In the first stage, everything worked fine. In
the second stage, a problem developed. Instead of the satellite going into orbit, the whole rocket system plunged into the Bay of Bengal. It was a big failure.
That day, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, Prof. Satish Dhawan,
had called a press conference. The launch was at 7:00 am, and the press conference -- where journalists from around the world were present -- was at 7:45 am at ISRO's satellite launch range in
Sriharikota [in Andhra Pradesh in southern India]. Prof. Dhawan, the leader of the organization, conducted the press conference himself. He took responsibility for the failure -- he said that the
team had worked very hard, but that it needed more technological support. He assured the media that in another year, the team would definitely succeed. Now, I was the project director, and it was
my failure, but instead, he took responsibility for the failure as chairman of the organization.
The next year, in July 1980, we tried again to launch the satellite -- and this time
we succeeded. The whole nation was jubilant. Again, there was a press conference. Prof. Dhawan called me aside and told me, "You conduct the press conference today."
I learned a very important lesson that day. When failure occurred, the leader of the organization owned that failure. When success came, he gave it to his team. The best management lesson I have learned did not come to me from reading a book; it came from that experience.
There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn not to judge things too
quickly. So he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.
The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and
the youngest son in the fall.
When they had all gone and come back, he called them together to describe what they
The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said no it was covered with green buds and full of promise. The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen. The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.
The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree's life. He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are up. If you give up when it's winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, fulfillment of your fall.
Don't let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest. Don't judge life by one difficult season.
The cracked water
A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which he carried
across his shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the
cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water to his house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of
its accomplishments, perfect for which it was made. But the poor, cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water
bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you. I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the
way back to your house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side
of the path but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you've
watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the
Moral: Each of us has his or her own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots but
it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them."Lots
can be said about positive thinking. On this page we will explore the benefits of positive thinking in someone's life. It is true that your day can have a very different outcome if you apply the
principles of positive thinking thorough it."
The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to
solve most of the world's problem.
Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.