The Implication of How we Remember Success

The CEO of an automotive company once told me of a series of focus groups with senior executives. The executives were asked to identify their greatest successes. Most responded in terms of an outcome, such as a vehicle. When asked what produced the success, the executives struggled to answer. There is a reason for this. In hierarchies the common emphasis is on task completion, and this outweighs the emphasis on human process.


This conversation came to mind as I listened to a senior executive from his company who was different than many of her peers.  During the first morning of our executive program this woman was greeting and orienting the participants. She had a long career in the company. At the end of her presentation, someone asked, “Of all the vehicles you have been involved in launching, which one are you most proud of?”


She paused then she gave a surprising answer. She said, “It is not the vehicles I remember, what I remember is the process that produced the vehicles.” She then described some launches and how the people collaborated, under pressure, to do great things. She described these and in each instance, she said, “That is what I am proud of.”


We often do not learn from social excellence, even when we have lived through it. This executive learned that success comes from high collaboration. If we pay attention to such episodes, we discover a paradox. There is almost always an emphasis on task completion and a manifestation of high collaboration.



  • Why do most executives remember the outcome and not the human process that produced it, what might this suggest about their orientation to leadership?
  • What does your above answer suggest about their learning and growth, what does the conventional executive orientation have to do with how they develop as a leader and on how the organization performs?
  • The leader described here is oriented to process as well as outcomes, what would you hypothesize about her leadership behavior and the performance of her organization?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?