How leaders should manage failure? [Real Story]

Question: Could you give an example, from your own experience, of how leaders should manage failure?
 
Kalam: 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. 
 
(Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam at Wharton India Economic forum , Philadelphia , March 22,2008)

The power of non-violence

Mr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence, in his June 9 lecture at the University of Puerto Rico , shared the following story as an example of
“non-violence in parenting”
 
“I was 16 years old and living with my parents at the institute my grandfather had founded 18 miles outside of Durban , South Africa , in the middle of the sugar plantations. We were deep in the country and had no neighbors, so my two sisters and I would always look forward to going to town to visit friends or go to the movies.
 
One day, my father asked me to drive him to town for an all-day conference, and I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed and, since I had all day
in town, my father ask me to take care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced. When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, ‘ I will meet you here at 5:00 p.m. , and we will go home together. ‘
 
After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theatre. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30 before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and got the car and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00.
 
He anxiously asked me, ‘ Why were you late? ‘I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said, ‘ The car wasn’t ready, so I had to wait, not realizing that he had
already called the garage. When he caught me in the lie, he said: ‘ There’s something wrong in the way I brought you up that didn’t’ give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure out where I
went wrong with you, I’m going to walk home 18 miles and think about it.’
 
So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark on mostly unpaved, unlit roads. I couldn’t leave him, so for five-and-a-half hours I drove behind him, watching my father go through
this agony for a stupid lie that I uttered. I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again.
 
I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don’t think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday.
 
“That is the power of non-violence.”