A different kind of courage
Early successes opened doors of opportunity for G.J. Hart, C.E.O. of Texas Roadhouse (Publicly traded with 340 locations and 40,000 employees). Eventually, he was invited to revive a stalled start-up that had found new investors. It was complex, costly, high-risk, and high potential. Success required bringing several brands under one roof with all new employees.
G.J. failed – he over-promised and under-delivered. Things fell apart and G.J. started losing his health. I couldn’t tell if he was fired, resigned, or a combination of both. I didn’t ask.
G.J. Hart has suffered. He didn’t use that term. I am. It’s how I see it. He suffered because of his own weakness.
He explains his frailty, “I couldn’t say no to financial backers.”
Rather than setting realistic expectations, he said he felt compelled to agree to undeliverable deliverables. He called it, “lack of courage.”
I ask G.J. what failure taught him. He said, “I learned to have the courage to go slow.” He learned to speak the truth of long-term value and reject the seduction of short-term profits.
Those who fail well are humbled and enlightened.
Being remade through frailty and failure produces the rare commodity of “compassionate-strength.” Suffering well softens the heart, hardens the will and infuses with courage.
While G.J. talked, I thought about his current leadership philosophy at the rapidly expanding Texas Roadhouse franchise. It’s clear failure is a component of his success. He found the courage to go slow; to take the time to build sustaining culture. Going slow is resulting in fast growth.
Frailties didn’t break him, they helped make him.
This is the final installment of my enlightening conversation with G.J. Hart.
Pt. 1 “A Dealer in Hope“
Pt. 2 “The Younger Leads the Older”
What are some lessons failure has taught you?
I have learned many, many things as a result of failure. One that stands out is learning not to respond to someone who is angry with me until I have listened and allowed a little time to go by. It is amazing what just a little bit of time can do to settle you down!
I am reminded of something a mentor once told me: Everyone needs to experience the great, golden opportunity of hardship. How true!
Thanks for your comment.
I love the quote, “golden opportunity of hardship.” I don’t think we would go intentionally seek hardship and failure. But I agree, it is one of our great opportunities.
Frequently, business is about trying to quickly take advantage of the newest “flavor of the day”. Unfortunately it is often undertaken without truly evaluating the need for newest/latest whatever.
I see the “courage to go slow” as an opportunity to evaluate what the business really needs, but not an excuse to drag your feet.
There are a couple of things I have learned from failure, my own and others:
1. Trust but verify. This is especially true if you are investigating problems.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate…and then communicate some more. Whether it is your vision, mission, goals, or something else let people know where you are going, why, how you are going to get there, and how they can help.
Thanks for your comment.
So in positive terms, success includes:
1. Not believing everything you hear or are told.
2. Get as much information out there as quickly and as frequently as possible, or as is effective.
Failure has taught you a lot.
In plant operations there’s often pressure to sacrifice operational stability and efficiency for a short-term opportunity. What you learn is that when the CFO starts asking questions, none of those salesmen are around to help you explain why costs are up and through-put is down. However, it’s just as easy to fail by being too methodical – you have to be willing to make a decision based on only 80% of the information you’d like to have, because if you wait for the remaining 20%, someone else will beat you to the opportunity.
The biggest thing I’ve learned about failure: it isn’t permanent, and it isn’t fatal. And it is absolutely the fastest, if the most painful, way to learn.
Another great post! It can be hard to say no yet it may be the best answer. It seems like everyone wants a piece of Operations but how many are really signing up for the risk of saying yes. The Bill Cosby quote sums it up nicely.
Great seeing you again. There are plenty of people who will “get behind you” …. way behind you when things go bad. 🙂
They push, push, push, and then say good bye.
Love your approach to 80% of the info is enough to move forward. I’m a firm believer in moving forward as quickly as possible. Foot dragging is frustrating.
Best to you,
Dan, can you add LinkedIn to share your posts with my business community?
Leadership Freak is my best blog and I’d like to share it as much as possible.
I like the statement of ” sufferings well infuses with courage, softens the heart, and hardens the will.” It is very true. Sufferings and failures are deeply connected and often inseperable. Where there is failure, there is sufferings. And I believe, it is sufferings that truly teach us about humanity, humility and humbleness. Success may blind you but failure connect you with people, purpose and passion.
I belive, that failure opens up many options and opportunity where you try our luck or destiny. In case of success, we are more like stereotype and repeatative in nature. We dont want to try something new. It is the failure that forces, compels or encourages us to try different.
I also believe that excess support decelerates success and lack of support accelerates success.So, the one who has less resources and support has greater chances to be successful in life.
Great post and topic. I was thinking the other day that we need to redefine “busy” or “productive”. Too often that means speed, but I think that can get us into trouble. As Bobby mentioned, we can’t drag our feet, but we do need to focus on the real reason we are doing something- and to keep up with the Joneses is not a good enough reason!
You actually confirm something I always believed, that it’s true failure that we can truly advance in anything we do. If you always succeed in what you do, it means you just aim too low, at least that’s how I see it. Aiming at the stars is bound to have you fall every now and then.
“I learned to have the courage to go slow,” is the phrase that strikes me most today. It helps reinforce the efforts I am making on my own path.
Failure has taught me that some “opportunities” are presented to us in life not so much to jump on, but to turn down. Some truly believe that if it lands in your lap, then you’re supposed to immediately embrace it and call it George. But I have found that attempting to do so with everything that crosses your path, no matter how shiny one more opportunity might seem, can set you up to fail.
Hi Dan, great post.
Failure is a given in everyone who has had any success. Throughout history the really triumphant people are the ones that had suffering and pain elicited by multiple failures but had the stamina, and passion to use every failure as a lesson learned, growing exponentially every time they failed. As said by Gabriele, if you don’t experience your share of mishaps you are clearly not leaping high enough. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to succeed well at anything we do. Well if that is true and I think it is then practice begets failure which begets more practice. The courage to continue will depend on like Ajay states, passion, purpose, and a resolve to achieve your dream. Having the fortitude to accept “the humility of defeat” only strengthens your determination to move forward and continue to fuel your passion which eventually will drive you to your dream. Dr. Banks a psychiatrist said a very long time ago at a dinner engagement that “Neurotics build castles in the sky, yet it is only psychotics that move in.” So being neurotic about your dream is probably OK and God knows I have been neurotic more than once in my life.
Crack me up Al! 😉 Great stuff!! Heard you had some prime aerial real estate for sale with a bridge somewhere.
And when you have done your 10,000 hours of humbling practice and others say you have ‘mastered’ it, then you truly know that you don’t know! And if you think you do know, you need Mr. Miyagi or Jethro Gibbs to thwack you on the back of your head.
Hey Doc, just for the record it does not and never will take me 10,000 hours to realize that “I don’t know.” Like you said the more we practice, the more we find out how little we truly understand and know. The puzzle just gets bigger. On the aerial real estate, sorry it is a time share and we still have plenty of weeks available I am told. Lastly I have already taken the “wipe on, wipe off” course but not sure whether you want me cleaning your vintage Mercedes any time soon. As far as the thwacking is concerned there is no pain, lost sensation there a while back so unless I detect motion with a powerful thwack I won’t even know you were there! Let me get back to practice! 🙂 Al
What are some lessons failure has taught you?
I observed an event on Saturday that was “technically” a failure but in every way except the end result was a success. When I participated in the 16th Annual Camp Gordon Johnston reunion (CGJ is a beachy part of North Florida that is relatively undeveloped but definitely beachy-touristy in nature now, a big part of the festivities was to be an amphibious landing on the beach by the “New Orleans,” an Army LCU (Landing Craft Vessel). The LCU navigated itself to North Florida from Tampa. Crowds assembled on the beach where the landing, which had been highly publicized, was to take place. (This beach is typically very sparsely populated.) Law enforcement directed traffic. It was a big “to do.” As the crowd observed the progress of the LCU as it made its way toward land, we observed it wait ….. switch position ….. wait some more ….. rev the engines …. wait some more ….. put down the landing ramp while it was still too far out on the water for anything to disembark ….. and eventually turn around and return to port. I did not hear one word of disappointment or disgruntlement from the crowd. I know from speaking to the crew later how disappointed they were. But the way the people present and their fellow military personnel, retired, reserved, and active, rolled out the red carpet for them and lauded them, you would have thought they had landed with no problem.
In that unconditional positive regard, there was a true respect for the fact that the crew had made the best decision possible given the information available to them … and when they left they said they’ll be back next year … with a smaller boat. I know they went back to Tampa not feeling like failures but that they were men and women with a revised mission involving a smaller boat.
And we were all still enthralled, “failure” or no.
I have been between jobs now for just over four months. For the prior three plus months I regarded this as failure on my behalf. Then there was a paradigm change.
Alongside being between jobs, I have been taking classes toward my Ed.D in Leadership at Creighton University and the class I have been taking during my phase of unemployment has been “Leadership and Reflective Styles.” As I began to rummage through my mind and self-reflect I began to notice how I changed and began to think about myself and the world differently.
I started to ask:
What is failure? Am I a failure? What can I control? What do I need to control? What are the greatest things in life? What are the things I should do to better my life? How can I become a better leader?
I believe that my biggest failure in life was being self-focused. To transcend the self and become others-focused has been the biggest change in my life and in my ability to lead. Now I believe that leading isn’t just about growing an organization or about augmenting the bottom lines, but about building the rapport that allows one to speak into the lives of others, creating space for change, and creating an organization or mutuality. To me, this is true leadership.
Failure is in the eye of the short-term venture capitalist…and those whose vision is myopic with little integration of legacy.
Well said Doc, another one for my “quote” book. thanks, Al
I am still failing and I haven’t learned yet what it takes to succeed. I am persevering, I am positive, I am trying to communicate communicate communicate, I am open to learning, and I don’t think I am arrogant.
I keep being told to “be specific” about what I do. From failing, I hope to learn to be specific. The advice to “be specific” is so vague, I can’t grasp it. What is not specific about the way I say what I do?
What’s ironic is that what I do is I bring new thinking, insight, and innovation to motivated speakers, writers, trainers, instructional designers, non-profit executives, and politicians to assure that their leadership message is:
a relevant, clear, fully conveyed, urgent call to action.
So I why can’t I do for myself what I do for others? What is not clear about what I do? What would make it clear? That’s what I need to learn from failure and haven’t yet. Therefore I am still failing!
This is an excellent post! It seems this is a running theme in some of the blogs I follow & have been reading lately. There’s never too much that can be said of learning to glean from our failures. I think one of the things that solidifies failure is the failure to admit what went wrong, that it probably was our own fault, and then do our best to change our minds or process, or both, before moving on. In my opinion, if we don’t change, or at least reach a point of willingness to stop & re-think, then facing a bigger problem of crisis can occur, and a crisis can be the breaking point for some. I’ve been told the Chinese word for “crisis is the same word for “opportunity”. If then necessity, being the mother of invention, is what becomes the impetus for some to step up, then it should also be true that crisis begets opportunity and can produce a “step up” moment if we allow it to.
Thank you, again, for sharing your wisdom.
@Renee Rowell (formerly @angelpsalms)