Elevate Your Thinking & Improve Your Leadership

This morning as I scanned my Linkedin news feed, I came across a post from one of my favorite sources of business information, Stanford GSB. Pictured was Elizabeth Holmes, Founder & CEO of Theranos. The caption on the picture read, “The minute you have a back-up plan, you’ve admitted you’re not going to succeed.”


Unfortunately, there is no additional information to support her statement, and negative comments began flying in from all over the globe, literally! Not wanting to join in the crowd without considering the merits of her point of view, I began to search for a logical explanation that would help me understand this entrepreneur that drew the attention of one of the most prestigious universities and business schools in the world.


One possible explanation could be that having a back up plan may be perceived by some as the leader(s) having doubts that the plan is sound and its implementation will deliver the desired outcome. However, a leader who is a good communicator may explain that some uncertainty will remain, even when every attempt has been made to mitigate most of the risks associated with the plan. I believe that providing this explanation and emphasizing trust in the team’s aptitude to overcome the challenge would ease their minds and encourage them to succeed.


Another possible reason for making such a statement could be that having a back up plan may call into question a leader’s commitment to the plan. Perhaps, but in my personal experience a back up plan shows 100% commitment to achieving a goal. History and military strategy offer us many lessons that can be used to illustrate this point. For instance, Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world and remains without equal to this day. He would challenge his generals to develop a plan to win the battle and brief him the day before the engagement. The morning the battle was to begin, he would brief his generals a whole new plan. This proved to be successful time after time, even though it was unorthodox.


As an entrepreneur and former military officer, I see great value in developing a back up plan and seeing alternative courses of action that could help me reach my objectives. One reason is that rarely does a plan survive first contact, and it is our ability to respond to the reality of a dynamic environment that enables us to succeed. TwitterLogo_#55acee

When we move from concept to reality, all of our assumptions are challenged and some are inevitably proven wrong. If we wait until an assumption fails to come up with a back up plan, valuable time will be lost. And if this happens at a critical point in the project, it can have catastrophic consequences for the team, the project and organization.


I wish Ms. Holmes would expound on her statement, to allow us to better understand her point of view and learn from her experience. Until that time, I hope that we will all commit to listening with the intent to understand. This is not only a matter of enlightened behavior; it also is a necessary character trait of great Leaders!


“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle