Leaders: How to orchestrate a successful comeback.

comebackThe word comeback has a couple of different definitions.  It can be used to mean a clever retort, usually in response to a negative comment.  Or it can indicate a return to a previous level of success.  If you want to learn more about the first definition of comeback I suggest you watch some Seinfeld television show reruns.  However, if you are interested in returning to your prior position, popularity or prosperity, read on.

Many people, teams, and companies have been part of a successful comeback.  I talk about some of them below.  The first thing we can learn from these examples is that a comeback is always possible; you did it before, you can do it again.

“A setback is a setup for a comeback.” –  T.D. Jakes

How do you orchestrate a successful comeback?  Repeat what brought you to success in the first place.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.  Tony Dungy, the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts, had a short powerful phrase that he used frequently in many circumstances – “Do What We Do.”  In his book Quiet Strength that phrase is repeated twenty five times.  Dungy started his first season with the Bucs instituting a new philosophy and strategy for winning games that he would carry with him to the Colts: “Attention to details and a commitment to the fundamentals – doing the ordinary things better than anyone else.”

Dungy’s reminder to just “Do What We Do” was used to build the team’s success in the beginning when they were losing; and to maintain success through the times when they were winning.   He used it when they lost starting players to injuries and had to rebuild.  It was said when they were facing the toughest teams in the league and formed their game plan. Dungy never wavered even when they were behind in a game and needed a comeback to win.  “Do What We Do,” is what allowed Dungy’s teams to orchestrate a successful comeback.

Xerox  Anne Mulcahy became the CEO of Xerox in May 2000, the same year the company was facing possible bankruptcy.  Her goal was “Restoring Xerox to a great company again.”

Mulcahy had always been proud of Xeros’s heritage of invention, having spent her entire career there.  Xerox invented the first plain paper copier, the first commercially available laser printer, the graphical user interface (GUI) and laser printing.  Xerox even introduced Steve Jobs and Apple to the first mouse then called the WIMP (Window, Icon, Menu, and Pointing device).

She knew that competitors had taken its market share by being more innovative than Xerox. Mulcahy returned Xerox to its roots – invention.  She refused to cut back on research and development, and instead restructured by selling off pieces of the company and downsizing.  By the end of 2002 Xerox had returned to full year profitability.

 “Turnaround or growth, it’s getting your people focused on the goal; that is still the job of leadership.” – Anne Mulcahy

Julie Andrews  A world renowned singer and actress, Julie Andrews had stared in such classics as Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.  In her career she won an Academy Award, two Emmys and five Golden Globes.  In 1997, while starring on Broadway in Victor/Victoria, Andrews suffered bronchitis and pneumonia.  At the end of the Broadway run, doctors discovered a noncancerous cyst on her throat that was impinging on her ability to sing.  After surgery to remove the cyst, Julie Andrews was never able to sing as she once had throughout her successful career.

Andrews returned to a successful acting career in the years that followed and by 2004 had developed a new outlet for her creative talents.  Along with her daughter Emma, she began writing a series of children’s books that told stories about characters who triumph over adversity. Julie Andrews realized that losing her singing voice was not the end of her opportunity to share her talent, it was the beginning of another opportunity. “If you think about it, the books I write for children are really an extension of my singing voice,” she said.

Here are a few summary thoughts on how do you orchestrate a successful comeback:

Repeat what brought you to success in the first place.

Always hope – that’s the leader’s job.

Remember what Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over”