Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

How Well Do You Set the Tone?

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Herb Kelleher

“You have to treat your employees like customers… When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right.”

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines)

Individual employees bring their own strengths and weaknesses to a company. It is the responsibility of managers and supervisors to recognize how to capitalize the potential of each employee, so to maximize results and outcomes. Some companies hire employees to fill a position without understanding the actual and often hidden talents and possibilities they bring to their employers. Others make it a point to manage their individuals as the assets they actually are. The great leaders understood how to utilize and harness the strength of the people they employed.

The great leaders understood it was not sufficiently important to select the right people and place them in the right jobs. They continually challenged these individuals to expand their talent and capabilities. One of the legacies of Henry Kaiser (Kaiser) is a spinoff of his engineering department – Kaiser Engineers. On their corporate website, they stated, “We learned that you can’t get fine talent into your organization by simply offering high salaries. You, and the men who work with you, have to build yourselves up to the capacity to tackle bigger and bigger jobs.” [1] This reflects Kaiser’s philosophy and the ability of his company to tackle such as the construction of the Hoover Dam.

Rudolph Giuliani (New York City) reinforced the concept of challenging employees, when he expressed, “Allowing employees to encounter challenges on a regular basis accomplishes two important goals. First it provides experience… Employees who are exposed to challenges and allowed to use their heads to respond to them become better at it. Some managers choose to shelter their staff from all aspects of decision-making… wonder why their employees make so many ‘bad decisions’ or don’t respond to situations the way the boss would. Second, regular challenge invigorates the staff… One quality every performer shared was a sense that their job was more than a simple transaction of time for money. Managers ask a lot from their employees. They want and should expect their staff to feel they’re part of something bigger than themselves, something worthwhile, maybe even important.” [2]

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) asserted, “As subordinates develop, work should be constantly added so that no one can finish his job. This serves as a prod and a challenge. It brings out their capabilities and frees the manager to assume added responsibilities. As members of the organization become capable of assuming new and more difficult duties, they develop pride in doing the job well. This attitude soon permeates the entire organization. One must permit his people the freedom to seek added work and greater responsibility. In my organization, there are no formal job descriptions or organization charts. Responsibilities are defined in a general way, so that people are not circumscribed. All are permitted to do as they think best and to go to anyone and anywhere for help. Each person then is limited only by his own ability.” [3]

Rickover was renown for his high expectations. “The lure of the new nuclear technology and its strategic importance appealed to many young naval officers. But winning a spot in Rickover’s Navy was not easy: prospective submariners often had to sit before the old curmudgeon on an unbalanced chair whose front legs had been sawed off by several inches. The admiral’s mean streak was legendary. He had no tolerance for defects in men or their work, and he sacked many an officer for being ‘stupid.’ Others, like a young ensign named Jimmy Carter, went on to better things.” [4]

The great leaders set the tone for their companies, and it often reflected their own personal expectations. “‘When I was at Intel, one of the most important values was discipline,’ says venture capitalist John Doerr, who worked for the firm for six years in the 1970s. ‘Andy Grove had no tolerance for people who were late or meetings that ran on without a purpose. It wasn’t that he was a hard ass; it’s just the nature of their business. There’s no room for error.’” [5]

[1] About Kaiser Engineers. History (home.earthlink.net)

[2] Giuliani Rudolph, Leadership (Hyperion, New York, 2002) p. 118

[3] Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)

[4] Van Voorst Bruce and Duffy Michael, Hyman George Rickover: 1900-1986: They Broke the Mold (Time Magazine, July 21, 1986)

[5] Eisenberg Daniel and Cooper Ramo Joshua, Andrew Grove: A Survivor’s Tale (Time Magazine, December 29, 1997)

Excerpt from Great! What Makes Leaders Great, What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about how the great American leaders harnessed the power and potential of their employees, through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

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Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

June 7, 2011 at 11:22 am

8 Responses

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