Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes

Sydney Finkelstein

It’s an all too common scenario: A great company breaks from the pack; the analysts are in love, the smiling CEO appears on the cover of BusinessWeek and Fortune, the stock soars. Two years later, the company is in flames, the CEO is under attack, and the stock has tanked. Why does this sort of thing keep happening at respectable companies like Motorola, Quaker, and Sony, all of which have very smart, hard-working senior executives? And how can you tell if it’s about to happen at your own company?Why Smart Executives Fail answers these and many more crucial questions. Sydney Finkelstein, a distinguished professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, carried out a six-year study of leadership failure, the largest of its kind. After hundreds of interviews with insiders at top companies that got into major trouble—such as GM, Mattel, and RiteAid—Finkelstein figured out the common causes behind failures in wildly different types of companies. He explains “the seven habits of spectacularly unsuccessful people” that drive smart managers to make catastrophic mistakes.

Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes