Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Be Smart Enough to Surround Yourself With Good People

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Holiday Inn leaders scout new project / Wallace E. Johnson (left), president, and Kemmons Wilson, chairman of the board of Holiday Inns of America Inc., look over plans for a new project in July 1958.

Holiday Inn leaders scout new project / Wallace E. Johnson (left), president, and Kemmons Wilson, chairman of the board of Holiday Inns of America Inc., look over plans for a new project in July 1958.

Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) asserted, “I learned a long time ago that you don’t have to be smart to run a business, but you do have to be smart enough to surround yourself with good people– people with vision, imagination, and determination. In the long run, my success has depended upon service to the consumer and the motivation and enthusiasm of the people in the business itself, from the doorman to the manager.”

The great leaders intuitively knew that one of the biggest challenges to be faced came from selecting and motivating the right employees. Michael Dell (Dell Computer) verified this, when he admitted, “One of the biggest challenges we face today is finding managers who can sense and respond to rapid shifts, people who can process new information very quickly and make decisions in real time. It’s a problem for the computer industry as a whole – and not just for Dell – that the industry’s growth has outpaced its ability to create managers. We tell prospective hires, ‘If you want an environment that is never going to change, don’t come here. This is not the place for you.’”

How great leaders approached identifying and hiring the right employees was as varied as their individual personalities. Ross Perot (EDS) noted, “Over my years in business, I have had a saying when it comes to hiring: Hire character and train skills. Everything worth doing is done on a foundation of integrity and honor.”

Timothy Koogle (Yahoo) shared his insights by explaining, “What we found is that hiring really smart people who have a breadth of knowledge or breadth of interest has been way more beneficial than hiring people with a whole lot of more mainstream media experience, and that means hiring really smart people straight out of school who are broader in their knowledge base and their interest level. And they’re more out of the box than anything else.”

“Microsoft has long hired based on I.Q. and ‘intellectual bandwidth.’ [Bill] Gates is the undisputed ideal: talking to most people is like sipping from a fountain, goes the saying at the company, but with Gates it’s like drinking from a fire hose. Gates, Ballmer and Myhrvold believe it’s better to get a brilliant but untrained young brain—they’re called ‘Bill clones’—than someone with too much experience. The interview process tests not what the applicants know but how well they can process tricky questions: If you wanted to figure out how many times on average you would have to flip the pages of the Manhattan phone book to find a specific name, how would you approach the problem?”

Colin Powell (U.S. Army) emphasized the importance of hiring and retaining the right people, when he noted, “Your best people are those who support your agenda and who deliver the goods. Those people expect more and deserve more, whether those rewards take the form of additional compensation, accolades, career advancement, assignments to plum projects, or personal development opportunities. If they don’t get what they expect and deserve, they become deflated, demotivated, and cynical. Because they’re marketable, they’re the first ones to update their resumes when they’re unhappy. And for organizations competing in today’s knowledge economy, that can be a recipe for disaster.”

  1. Wilson Kemmons, How to Make Your Guests Happy (Business Perspectives, Volume: 12, Issue: 4)
  2. Magretta Joan, The Power of Virtual Integration: An Interview with Dell Computer’s Michael Dell (Harvard Business School Publishing, March-April 1998 v76 n2 p72 (13) )
  3. Remarks by H. Ross Perot upon receiving the Sylvanus Thayer Award West Point – 15 October 2009 (West Point Association of Graduates; http://www.westpointaog.org)
  4. Silicon Valley In-Depth Interviews: Tim Koogle (Business Week, August 7, 1997)
  5. Isaacson Walter, In Search of the Real Bill Gates (Time Magazine, January 13, 1997)
  6. Harari Oren, Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (McGraw Hill, New York, 2002) p. 25

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great, What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011) Read a FREE Chapter.

Related:

If You Put Fences Around People, You Get Sheep

Does Compassion and Empathy Have a Role in Leadership?

Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness

Do You Have Faith in Your People?

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

March 27, 2013 at 10:00 am

6 Responses

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  1. George Steinbrenner had a similar philosophy: “Always surround yourself with people who are more intelligent that you.” My father who used to work at Yankee Stadium, would often quip (when Steinbrenner would say this): “Mr. S. never realized how easy this would be for him.”

    Rey Carr (@Rey_Carr)

    March 27, 2013 at 10:12 am

  2. I love this philosophy and believe it can apply to many other aspects of life. Another article I recently read stated that simply being near people who are well known in their industry will cast a “halo effect” over you. People assume that you are authoritative and good at what you do whenever you are associated with people who are authoritative and good at what they do. Thanks for the great article!

    Anna DiTommso

    March 28, 2013 at 10:14 am

  3. This philosophy goes back to my youth when i was at school, I remember my parents telling me that i should make friends with the smartest kids and have them in my study group. Now i tell the same thing to my kids. It is the same reason why we like to read about the experiences of successful people, one might say its another way of surrounding yourself with intelligent people. This is a great article!

    Ruel lawrence

    March 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm

  4. Hi, really enjoyed reading this and your insight into people and behaviour. I am a PR and Communications final year student. Starting up a blog on negotiation in the work place, conflict resolution and focus around the way people behave. I would love and appreciate your opinion. http://thepowerbattle.wordpress.com/ Thanks, Sophie.

    sophiemanders

    April 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm

  5. Wise words. Surround yourself with smart people to open your eyes to new and bigger ideas and you will flourish. Good leadership welcomes fresh perspectives – weak leadership seeks out yes men and women. I would add one more thing – you also need people who are good in the sense of decent: people with integrity and compassion. Get that right and both professional and personal success is certain.

    Ara ohanian (@aohanian)

    April 12, 2013 at 6:29 am

  6. very good article! I believe it’s also important to know which people to emilinate from your inner circle:

    http://marinazet.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/kiss-these-7-sabotaging-people-good-bye/

    Marina Zayats

    September 2, 2013 at 5:02 am


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