If You Want Glory, Join the Marines – Turnaround is Not About the Accolades

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.

  • Moliere

If overcoming obstacles of enormous size yielded glory in such volume, there would be more awards in the turnaround business.

I appreciate the sentiment, Moliere, I really do, but I have to say that I’m not with you 100%.

Turnaround Accolades

General MacArthur was certainly acknowledged  for his work in the Pacific Front during World War II, speaking of enormous obstacles and the glory that goes with them, but for us turnaround professionals, the glory is less, shall we say, pronounced.

Is that maybe because the obstacles aren’t so great?

Far be it for me to crack up the complexity of the problems that face turnaround professionals, but I think most of us can agree that restructuring billions of dollars in debt, successfully renegotiating terms with dozens of creditors, saving tens of thousands of jobs, and preventing hits to the US economy – and sometimes in the business blink of an eye – is no cake walk. And even though much of the work is on a smaller scale, jobs are still saved, money is still recovered and businesses keep going. And all of that is good for the economy.

My reflections on Moliere’s remarks have brought me to the conclusion that the turnaround profession is incredibly satisfying in its own right for the very reasons listed above – accolades be forgotten.

Be Your Own Turnaround Manager

When done right, turnaround work is not the kind of consulting that borrows your watch to tell you what time it is. Turnaround management is about rolling up your sleeves, getting into the trenches and getting your hands dirty. It’s about apologizing for mistakes you probably didn’t make and accepting burdens that weren’t otherwise yours to bear.

This isn’t meant to elevate turnaround management to unwarranted heights or make myself feel better about my work.

I want you to derive a lesson from this when it comes to your business, whether or not you’re the leader of that business.

Why wait to hire a turnaround professional? Sure, experience breeds insight and knowledge into many potential solutions, but if you could take on a lot of what I’ve already said, then you’re halfway to resolving your problems:

– Take responsibility for what’s gone wrong

– Accept the burdens for resolution on your shoulders

– Get dirty by rolling up your sleeves and getting down in the trenches; don’t just sit behind your desk and hide – get out there and make tough decisions

No, these things alone do not turn around companies, but when those around you perceive that you’ve taken responsibility, accepted the burden of making things right, and gotten your hands dirty, they will pull behind you and get on your team. They will listen when you ask them to act; they will share with you and be honest about their ideas and yours.


This is what much of turnaround management is about. As I said, the experience and insight allow us to have a better idea of what will work and what won’t – and how best to do it – but for successful turnarounds, all of this ground work has to get laid down first.

You won’t wind up with a ton of glory when it’s all said and done, but I assure you that it’s rewarding in and of itself. When done right, your job will still be there when you’re done, as will those of your colleagues.

Glory be what it will – I’ll take turnaround any day.

Have you ever accepted responsibility for something that you didn’t have to? What was the outcome?

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