Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Your Personal Attitudes Shape Your Environment

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Jack Welch - General Electric

The great leaders were tough-minded individuals. They developed a drive and tenacity that refused to allow them to quit, or to accept defeat. The years they invested in the trenches of frustration, failure and adversity taught them well.

Personal attitudes reflect how individuals choose to interact with their environment. The great leaders’ personal attitudes were instrumental in forming and building essential emotional bonds with key constituencies, and established personal standing among all groups. These began with their discipline, conviction and dedication. It was often reflected in both their outward humanity and humility. Jack Welch observed, “You do have to possess self-confidence and humility at the same time. That combination is called maturity.”[1]

This is in contrast to high levels of hubris displayed by many of the poorer performing executive leaders. Herb Kelleher would state when asked about his position at Southwest Airlines, “Position and title don’t necessarily signify anything. When people ask me what I do, I say I work for Southwest Airlines.”

Many of the great leaders developed a deep sense of humanity and humility because of their perspectives on money and profits. These individuals for the most part viewed profits as a result of their efforts, and not the objective. Money was openly distained by some. Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel) refused to even carry money on his person. Walt Disney (Disney) was indifferent to both money and material comfort. Leo Baekeland (Bakelite), the inventor of plastic, is another example.

“Although he was a scientific genius and made a fortune, he disdained material things and remained a man of simple needs. He was happiest on his boat in old sneakers and white duck pants and shirt. In fact, he wore sneakers when he was formally dressed.”[2]

Additionally, many abhorred financial speculation. They viewed it as an illegitimate means of making money. (John Jacob) “Astor hated gamblers. He never confused gambling, as a mode of money-getting, with actual production. He knew that gambling produces nothing—it merely transfers wealth, changes ownership. And since it involves loss of time and energy, it is a positive waste.”[3]

Rather than believe in money and what it could do them, the great leaders had a deep-seated sense of self-belief. They believed in themselves, their abilities and in their own ideas. Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay) stated, “Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve… The greatest pollution problem we face today is negativity. Eliminate the negative attitude and believe you can do anything. Replace ‘if I can, I hope, maybe’ with I can, I will, I must.’”[4]

They had an incorruptible sense of purpose and duty, and were sensitive to their personal power, authority and influence on others. Many of these attitudes stemmed from their personal work ethic and the personal sacrifice they made to achieve their success. Adversity and failure produced humility rather than hubris and arrogance.

A notable example is Willis Carrier (Carrier Corporation). “He was a humble man and never used the letters in front of his name, and I don’t recall anyone calling him “Dr. Carrier” while he was alive. But out of respect to his great legacy, Carrier Corporation refers to him as “Dr. Willis Carrier” even today.”[5]

This sensitivity and humility also fostered deep respect and appreciation for employees’ contributions to their success. Before social responsibility was in vogue, George Westinghouse (Westinghouse Electric), John Patterson (National Cash Register), Milton Hershey (Hershey Foods) and William C. Procter (Procter and Gamble), among others, displayed their appreciation, gratitude and respect by greatly improving working conditions, building employee communities and introducing a host of employee benefit programs well before they were even formulized into law.

The great leaders were tough-minded individuals. They developed a drive and tenacity that refused to allow them to quit, or to accept defeat. The years they invested in the trenches of failure and adversity taught them well.

“Trials, labor, grief are but the fires in our lives, which are necessary to purify and bring out our virtues. In business, sacrifices are demanded of us… All these strengthen judgment… and cultivate resourcefulness.

Sacrifice establishes character… It takes the fire of sacrifice to clarify a man’s mind and heart so that he can establish the worthier ideals for himself.

A man who desires anything must be willing to go the whole way for it, not half way. No man gains anything in the way of power and privileges, who does not pay with a change in habits, thought and action.”[6]

[1] Welch Jack, Get Real, Get Ahead (Business Week, July 23, 2007)

[2] Flynn, Tom, Yonkers, Home of the Plastic Age (younkershistory.org/bake.html) Accessed April 21, 2010

[3] Hubbard, Elbert, Astor, A Famous Businessmen Biography (Zale Tabakman) Accessed January 19, 2010

[4] Ash, Mary Kay, (Mary Kay Inc. Corporate Website, 2010)

[5] Littlehales, Edna M., Uncle Willis the Educator (The Father of Cool, Carrier Company Website, June 14, 2002)

[6] Penney, J.C., Lines of a Layman (Channel Press, Great Neck, NY, 1956)p 118

Excerpt: 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 leader’s personal attitudes were instrumental in forming and building essential emotional bonds with key constituencies, 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 9, 2011 at 11:07 am

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