Mistakes from the corner office admitted freely – and with style

Letters from executives in newsletters are at the bottom of my list of favorite things. But never say never: In the 2007 Ragan Recognition Awards, a letter in the employee newsletter from Mark Wagner, EVP of store operations, that took the Award of Excellence in the CEO/Executive Letter category comes close to making me change my mind. 

Wagner reveals two mistakes he made in his Walgreens career he’ll never forget. (Yes, an executive revealing mistakes – that’s what got my attention, too. And they’re real mistakes, not the I-thought-I-was-wrong-once-but-I-was-wrong variety.) 

“Failure is the price we pay for success – but achievers bounce back. Here’s how I’ve learned to make the most of a bad decision.”

Then he gives three points – just three! – that are concise (the longest is 39 words) and no-nonsense. I love this one: “Don’t make excuses. If you find yourself developing a defense, it’s probably a good indication you screwed up.” 

How refreshing. How well-written. Every executive should read it and take notice. Here’s a boss we all could work for with pride: Not only is he not afraid to admit he’s human, but he can write, too (or knows a good writer/editor when he sees one).

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2 thoughts on “Mistakes from the corner office admitted freely – and with style

  1. Great example. Another CEO that I admire for telling it like it is and letting it all hang out is current leader of Kiwanis International (see blog at http://www.kiwanisleader.org). All too often, company leaders use a column, letter space in newsletters, speeches at events. etc., as a “perk of the job” like dental insurance or a parking space. These leaders look at the opportunity as a chore – or worse – as a chance to dazzle a captive audience with their droll. While the PR and communication teams seem to have total disregard for whether the person has anything compelling to say, in reality, they most likely find themselves backed into a political corner or simply overruled when voicing opposition to this traditional space and time wasting technique. I’d rather see the space devoted to a Life Alert or Viagra ad. At least that would be revenue and not disguised as relevant information. Actually, there are probably plenty of better possibilities. It won’t be until PR professionals continue pushing back, show examples of how effective executive messages could be done, or suggest alternatives like this example, that we will ever chip away at this stale editorial institution.

  2. Your response shows a much-appreciated sensitivity to the plight of many PR people. Being able to show measurable results of effective CEO columns is difficult, so showing examples of good ones may be a better approach. The trick will be to find ways to subtly share them without making an insecure CEO more so.

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