“I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.”

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These are not always the words you would expect to hear from a leading CEO when admitting that a move they made in the market was the wrong one, or at the very least one that should have had a more considered approach. 

They are certainly not the words that Jim Balsilee the Co-CEO of Research in Motion, makers of the Blackberry, has uttered (well at least not publicly). The latest analyst reaction to RIM's worsening performance is not positive, siting current executive leadership as one of the barriers to returning glory.  

But this is exactly how Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix started off a recent blog post to explain that the move the company made on increasing prices without consulting their customers was perhaps the wrong one.  He went on to admit the fears he faces from being so successful in one realm that any other new ventures may never match up. Finally he went on to say:

"I want to acknowledge and thank our many members that stuck with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.

Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions."

Some commentators felt that this was just too little too late, given that the price changes were announced back in July and that this open letter of apology only came after Netflix reported losing over 1 million subscribers. and they had a 'new' service to launch, namely the re-branding of the mailed DVD service to Qwikster

Both close in age, Hastings a masters graduate of Stanford and Balsillee a masters graduate of Harvard are certainly no dummies – so what are the lessons you can learn from their respective personal leadership brands?

  1. Clear belief in a vision that was inspiring, innovative, and moved markets to a whole new level. When you have such a vision be sure to clearly communicate it to those that need to know about it and don't waver from that belief and message. 
  2. Know that you cannot do it all yourself. Identify where your strengths and your operating uniqueness lies, do that and find other ways to get the rest done. Your leadership will be much more effective hiring others to do what you do not do well, outsource areas that are not a core expertise, be open to others input and insights. 
  3. Listen to what is going on in your marketplace. Trailblazing got you to where you are, but it may not sustain you as your market matures, competitors catch up or overtake you and customer demands change. Gather feedback, ask for opinions, watch reactions to ideas – but then act on them, do not plug your ears, sing loudly and pretend you cannot hear the noise. 
  4. When you make a mistake fess up. And do it sooner rather than later. in today's world where transparency is so evident and expected, people may not love what you have done but will respect you more for admitting when you are wrong and doing something about it versus hoping its all going to go away or continue doing what you have always done. 
  5. Know when it's quitting time. When you have built something so impactful stepping aside is going to be extremely tough – look at how hard it must have been for Steve Jobs. But sometimes the damage you are doing to yourself as well as the products, service, company and all of its employees is greater than the benefit of your staying, bow out gracefully versus getting the Carole Bartz phone call. 

Define what you want your personal leadership brand to be and stick to the plan. 

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