Success Secret: Failure

 Success Secret: Failure

By Cheri Beranek

It’s 1992 and I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. I had always been a high achiever – graduating in the top 1 percent of my high school class. I was an honors student, participated in student government through college, and competed on the national level in college debate competitions. I even finished the coursework for my Master’s degree in 16 months. But in 1992, five years into my professional career, I had now been fired – twice!

The first time around, I lasted only 11 months. It was a demanding environment – an organization that went from 100 to 160 employees in those 11 months. Twelve hours days were not only common – they were expected. As the workload was piled on, I didn’t know how to say no, and the stress kept building. I suffered from migraines and took such strong medication that I lived life in a fog. On top of everything else, my boss was insecure and uncommunicative. The best gift I could have received was my pink slip – as it gave me a chance to start over.

The second time around, I thought I had learned from my mistake – In less than six weeks, I had found another job – making 25 percent more money than the previous position. I still worked 12 hours days, but I was asking more questions and requesting help when I needed it. My boss not only challenged me, it taught me everything he knew. The migraines went away, the company flourished – growing from six to sixty million in revenues in four years, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Then the bottom fell out – for me, not the company. I was running marketing, and our organization was well positioned for growth. But my boss was transferred to head up a newly acquired acquisition, and once more I was now reporting to an insecure and uncommunicative boss. One day, I overheard a conversation between “the big-bosses.”

The part of the dialogue that dumbstruck me was: “A woman will never run marketing at this company!” As a result, I retreated into the depths of what I knew – working harder, proving “this woman” could this. Unfortunately, the harder I worked, the more insecure my boss became. I lasted less than six months before the next pink slip was handed over. Each time I was fired, it felt like all the equity I was building in myself was robbed from me. It was like going bankrupt in my career profile. But just like a financial restructuring, it does allow you the chance to start fresh – and hopefully learn from your mistakes.

Fast-forward 20 years – today, as the president and CEO of Clearfield, Inc., a publicly traded organization listed on Nasdaq, I’ve handed out my share of pink slips. But, every time I do, it’s not without a knot in my stomach and lump in my throat about what could I have done to prevent it.

So what do I do differently today? It’s pretty simple: Don’t work for or hire insecure people – they will only drag you down.

Insecure people play politics. Confident people recognize that politics exist, but they don’t get involved in the games. Insecure people are bitter, while confident people promote happiness — and happy people have a much higher contribution rate. Insecure people feel the only way to win is to beat someone else down; confident people collaborate and build consensus.

I have the great fortune of working with some of the brightest, most self-confident technologists, sales people, administrative specialists, marketing gurus, production workers, manufacturing professionals, procurement agents, and bean counters in the world. I’m proud of my first five years – and two pinks slips. I believe that early experience made me a good leader.

Cheri Beranek is president and CEO of Clearfield, Inc.

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