Monday, May 17, 2010

HOW THE MIGHTY FALL

BY ANDLEEB ABBAS

Organisations without a true purpose, mission and values are always in danger of losing their way in their fanatical obsession for more and more growth and profits

The lethal combination of money, power and sex are age-old recipes for failure. Nearly every fall from grace, be it individual or organisational, can be traced to their mad pursuit. Yet, history repeats itself repeatedly. From the corporate world to the world of politics and sports, human nature keeps on displaying its amazing ability to destroy those very foundational bases on which they launched their platform of growth and progress. From Tiger Woods to Shashi Tharoor and from IPL to Toyota, the sad story of individuals and organisations indulging in negligence, deception and arrogance, leading to their disgrace and downfall, keeps on reminding us that unbound success is perhaps more dangerous than limited failure.

Sustainable success is based on the basic principles of hard work and an honest pursuit of worthy goals. Tiger Woods was perhaps the classic example of this path to progress. With total perseverance and persistence, he did the undoable. Golf being for the rich, for the white and for the famous saw in Tiger a new hero who was neither white nor rich and famous, but through sheer hard work and single-minded focus he became a symbol of genuine success. This image of disciplined behaviour was what brought him the billion-dollar sponsorship deals from Nike, Gillette, Rolex and many more. As they say, the true test of a person’s character comes on two occasions: one when he is successful and the other when he is a failure. People without the foundational strength of character find it very difficult not to become slaves to their ego. They get so used to living an image that they forget who they really are. The Tiger image has now become more sheepish with story after story of his less than mortal flings with every woman in sight. With his image cracked, he is losing billions in sponsorship despite his PR team’s carefully crafted re-branding effort of the repentant family man and the rejuvenated sportsman.

Another type of star personality comprises those who use their urbane sophistication to climb the political and organisational ladder. These are people who apparently have a smooth demeanour, wonderful communication abilities and seemingly charming personalities. Shashi Tharoor, the Indian junior minister, fits this bill very well. Having worked for most of his career for the UN, he has perfected the art of saying the politically correct thing, yet committing a morally corrupt action with equal ease. At the UN he had climbed to the level of being an under-secretary-general of Kofi Annan and, at one time, was tipped to take over the secretary general’s role. However, his involvement in a sexual harassment case and the oil-for-food Iraq misappropriation led to the end of his career at the UN. Similarly, his tenure as a junior minister has been riddled with question marks. The recent scandal on his IPL commission dealings on money and favours to his girlfriend are familiar stories for those who have known about his chequered past.

IPL was expanding its range by bidding for new teams for the next year’s tournament. Kochi was one of two successful bidders to expand the immensely successful IPL to 10 city-based teams. Shashi Tharoor was dragged into a public spat when Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, revealed details of the Kochi franchise ownership via his Twitter account, saying a girlfriend of Tharoor had been given equity without paying for it. Tharoor had earlier been accused of receiving a hidden stake in the team. Meanwhile, Lalit Modi himself had been accused of trying to derail the Kochi group so that another group of bidders could take its place. Finally, the uproar was too much and Shashi Tharoor resigned, ending perhaps his last chance to make it big. With intelligence and charm oozing all over him, it is his lack of character and principles that have repeatedly brought about his downfall.

Similarly, organisations can only sustain themselves if their foundations based on principles and values are strong. Organisations without a true purpose, mission and values are always in danger of losing their way in their fanatical obsession for more and more growth and profits. IPL, with its spectacular rise, had become a global model of money spinning, star power and sheer entertainment. Organisations that experience fame and fortune with such lightning speed become so used to propelling growth that they develop this blind belief that their size and glamour will save them from any adverse reaction. IPL’s own blazing pace has burned its image.

IPL may be blamed for being a nouveau riche, upstart organisation. But how do you explain one of the world’s most legendary and reputed organisations involved in a serious compromise on product quality in pursuit of mindless growth. Yes, we are talking about the most quality-oriented organisation in the world, Toyota. The shocking revelation that most of the car models of Toyota have faulty accelerators, leading to life threatening accidents, has shaken the auto world. Despite warnings by its quality department on the lack of safety, Toyota was again carried away by its desire to occupy market share left open by tottering American giants like GM and Chrysler; in this race for being the biggest they forgot how to be the best. The result is that they had to recall eight million cars for replacement and repair of the faulty parts. The cars may be repaired in a few weeks but the dent to its reputation may take years to return to the level where people can swear by it once again.

When the truth becomes false and falsehood becomes true, the search for what is and should be becomes as vague and confusing as this sentence itself. A world which believes that anything and everything can be bought, where good looks or goodwill are just a cosmetic surgery away, where loyalty and sincerity have a price tag, where being big and famous at all costs is the real mantra, it is inevitable that success is only a matter of time and failure a consequential reality. It is an erosion of values at the individual and organisation level that has caused the mightiest to crumble and fall. The only sustainable recipe for enduring success is an almost religious adherence to the age-old fundamentals of integrity, fidelity, quality and humility. Without these values, individuals and organisations are bodies without a soul destined to lose their identity, self-esteem and dignity, and fall into the abyss of ignominy.

The writer is a consultant and CEO of FranklinCovey and can be reached at andleeb@franklincoveysouthasia.com
Courtesy DAILY TIMES May 2

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