Leaders are more likely to fail due to a compromise in character versus overall competence. That was the message stressed by nationally recognized consultant, author and psychologist Tim Irwin, as he presented the keynote address to incoming Wake Forest University Schools of Business graduate students on Aug. 19 at Bridger Field House.
“Character is about being authentic, it’s about being humble, it’s about being self-managed and it’s about being courageous,” Irwin said.
Irwin’s presentation, “What Should I Learn in Business School?” featured videos showcasing the recent career “derailments” of several high profile leaders including former BP CEO Tony Hayward, journalist Helen Thomas and professional golfer Tiger Woods. Irwin said most leaders have fine business educations. However; arrogance, a lack of self awareness, a sense of entitlement and missed warning signals lead to catastrophic failure.
Rationalization is the killing ground of character, according to Irwin. “Do you ever think of rationalize as rational lies? It’s not good to lie to someone else. What’s even worse is to lie to ourselves, saying I don’t have to follow the rules, I am entitled, I am too important to fail.”
To avoid career derailment, Irwin urged business students to develop good habits like journaling, giving and receiving frequent feedback, keeping commitments, and practicing self-discipline.
Dean of Business Steve Reinemund joined Irwin in a town hall style question and answer session in which students asked introspective questions about ethical challenges, leadership development and career advancement.
Andy Jones, (MBA ’12) questioned how to quickly recover from a mistake and move forward. Reinemund responded, “We are all going to make mistakes. When you build that sense of credibility over time, you have assets in the bank, a checkbook of sorts and the people who have been there for a while will know your true character. If you are honest and transparent and your record supports your character, you can survive.”
When asked by James Cain (MA ’11) about what has brought meaning and perspective to his career, Reinemund said, “As I look back at my last professional chapter as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, the single most significant memories I have are around contributing to the development of leaders.”
The presentation and town hall discussion was an opportunity for 320 incoming Schools of Business graduate students to come together to begin their Wake Forest experience. Students received a copy of Tim Irwin’s book Run with the Bulls without Getting Trampled prior to coming to campus.
Irwin is also author of the book, Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership. He is Managing Partner of IrwinInc—Psychologists to Business. Irwin is a licensed psychologist and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Georgia and at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla.