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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Are You Willing to Pay the Price to Succeed?

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Blank_Marcus

All of the great leaders I surveyed experienced what I describe as the Crucible Principle. It states that:

Individuals experience a prolonged, but undetermined period of adversity, disappointment, discouragement and failure early in their careers, which either refines them or breaks their spirits. How they respond to these circumstances will define their character, refine their critical thinking and establish their legitimacy as a leader.

Individuals who do not undergo crucible development early in their careers will not develop the critical thinking skills and character to handle adversities, problems and crisises that will arise in the future. This will result in more difficulties, which will place them at a disadvantage, and undermine their legitimacy as a leader.

Leadership greatness is achieved only after individuals experience an emotional caldron full of adversity, setbacks, failures and obstacles that refine both their character and their vision.

It is a period where courage and fortitude are tested and cultivated. In general, many individuals who experience the Crucible Principle encounter unrelenting waves of pain, disappointment, chaos, confusion and discouragement. They see no end in sight. They simply give up and quit.

“Resilience from the trials of life’s adversity has always been the filter that separates folk heroes from other leaders. Anthropologist Joseph Campbell profiled ancient leaders across cultures and revealed a shared ability to transcend crushing defeat.

This was rooted in a drive for a lasting legacy that can provide for a mythic sense of purpose to ‘triumph the despair and shame of failure. Setbacks actually challenge us to come back with an even greater sense of mission…

Many other great leaders, such as Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, Staples founder Tom Steiuherg and Jet Blue founder David Neelenian, created revolutionary enterprises only after having been fired as victims of power struggles.

Others, such as Autodesk’s Carol Bartz, led strategic transformations while battling life-threatening health crises; and some, such as lifestyle maven Martha Stewart, came back as a hugely successful leader following time served in prison. ” [1]

The existence of this principle and the number of times it surfaced was particularly surprising during the course of my research. The great leaders surveyed experienced difficult levels of adversity, including a sizable number of obstacles they had to overcome.

Success didn’t come easy to them, and it was far from automatic. They were relentless in the levels of persistence they demonstrated, buttressed by the strength of their personal vision. They refused to quit and accept failure. When they encountered failure, they picked themselves up and started over again, and sometimes more than once, until they ultimately succeeded.

The existence of the Crucible Principle was supported by the fact that the average age of the leaders surveyed who started their business or achieved their first major corporate position, was 34 years old.

This means between 13 to 16 years of their lives were spent working their way into a position of responsibility. This data is predicted on the assumption that most started working when they were between 18 to 21 years old.

Some notable examples include: Jack Welch, who started his career at General Electric as a junior engineer, almost left in frustration during his first year, Arthur Vining Davis (Alcoa) was the third employee to be hired at the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (Alcoa) as an assistant; and Arthur Blank (Home Depot), who began his career with the Handy Dan Hardware Company, where he worked for 14 years until he was fired as a regional manager.

An additional significant factor was the duration of the application of the Crucible Principle. My research establishes that it averages 12 years in length. This typically is a period filled with pain, heartache, frustration and failure.

The great leaders’ ability to succeed and prevail ultimately determined their future success. For any individual seeking immediate success, this should be an eye opening fact.

During my own younger years a personal mentor constantly reminded me: “The wheel of success turns very slowly.” Some notable examples of the Crucible Principle include Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines), who waged a four-year legal battle before he flew a single passenger, just to incorporate and start-up his airline. During the early years of its existence, he was forced to sell one of his four airplanes to meet his payroll.

It took Joe Wilson, president of the Haloid Company, twelve years of frustration and continuous investment to commercialize a patent that he had purchased for xerography, to produce the first Xerox machine.

Jeff Bezos observed, “Optimism is essential when trying to do anything difficult because difficult things often take a long time. That optimism can carry you through the various stages as the long term unfolds. And it’s the long term that matters.” [2]

Once the great leaders emerged and achieved levels of prominence, they averaged 25 years in their positions. This does not mean that their lives were easy and carefree. These typically were periods of continuing conflict and adversity, yet they also were the most productive periods of their lives.

Malcolm McLean had founded a successful trucking business. Looking for a way to solve shipping bottlenecks and lower overall costs, he used his resources to develop containerizing cargo.

His innovations ultimately revolutionized the shipping industry through the standardization of an integrated system of containers, ships, railroads and harbor facilities. His ideas virtually impact the entire world due to the expansion of global trading.

Henry Flagler made his fortune as John D. Rockefeller’s partner at Standard Oil. He used his considerable financial resources to create the tourism industry in the State of Florida by building railroads and elegant resorts.

Related:

Does Luck Play a Role in a Leader’s Success?

Do You Have the Fortitude and Resolve to Continue?

Leaders Possess a Deeply Embedded Sense of Purpose

Leaders Possess an Absolute Love for What They Do

References:

  1. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fired With Enthusiasm (Directorship) April 1. 2007
  2. Rob Walker, Jeff Bezos: Amazon.com – America’s 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs (Inc. Magazine) April 1, 2004

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

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 © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

December 14, 2012 at 11:31 am

Yes, They Did Built It and Made It Happen!

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Fred Smith – FedEx

It is time to recall how many great American leaders were pioneers who changed the World, as we know it today. There are so many positive contributions to society accomplished through the efforts of these individuals, which are often ignored or are taken granted in our daily lives. If you were to remove any one of them, the world would be quite a different place. Many were pioneers in their fields, whose innovations and inventions influenced subsequent innovations and inventions. While not inclusive, there are many notable examples.

John Dorrance (Campbell Soup) invented and marketed condensed soups to make Campbell’s a household name. Asa Candler (Coca-Cola) launched the soft drink industry with the introduction of Coca-Cola, and Milton Hershey (Hershey Foods) developed an affordable milk chocolate for mass-market consumption.

Eddie Bauer (Eddie Bauer) and L.L. Bean (L.L. Bean) pioneered the development of the sporting goods industry by creating products to meet the needs of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, followed by Phil Knight (Nike) who felt there was a need for a better running shoe.

Related: The Productive Response to Failure

During the early 20th Century Conrad Hilton (Hilton Hotels) began acquiring hotel properties in the cities, improving them and opening a market for the upper middle class customer. But it was Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn), who saw the need and opportunity for predictable quality accommodations for families on vacation. Fueled by the growth of the Baby Boomer generation, Holiday Inns grew across the country and then the world. His success influenced the creation of multiple lodging chains that followed his model.

Kemmons Wilson – Holiday Inn

Both of these leaders changed the hospitality industry by creating predictable and quality standards for hotel and motel accommodations throughout the world, vastly improving the traveler’s experience.

Related: What Does Luck Have to Do With It?

While many individuals contributed to the development of the automobile industry, the production of cheap and reliable automobiles, reliable tires and power diesel motors had an enormous impact on the shaping of America during the 20th Century. These great leaders, along with others, transformed America into a mobile society. One of the most influential is Henry Ford (Ford Motor), who didn’t invent the automobile, but changed and disrupted the automotive industry with the production of affordable and reliable cars for the mass market.

In less than 50 years after the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight in 1906, Olive Ann Beech (Beech Aircraft), William Boeing (Boeing) and Juan Trippe (Pan American Airways) pioneered the early aviation industry, from the early 1920s through the late 1940s, to launch the commercial jet age in the early 1950s.

While Beech and Boeing focused on airplane design and production, Trippe set his sights on connecting the world, first in South America, and then across the Pacific in the 1930s with his famed “China Clipper” flying boats. Trippe worked with William Allen (Boeing) after the Second World War to introduce the jet-age to commercial aviation.

Related: Did You Ever Want to Just Give Up and Quit?

Fred Smith (FedEx) designed and created a web and spoke logistics and distribution model that enabled FedEx to grow into an enormous success. At the same time he incorporated numerous and continuous improvements and innovations to drive up efficiency, while minimizing costs.

Up to 1888, if you wished to have a picture taken, you needed to visit a local photographer. If you enjoy taking pictures, you can thank George Eastman (Kodak), who developed modern photography for the average consumer.

Prior to King Gillette’s (Gillette) razor, men either went to their local barber or used a straight razor to shave. William C. Procter (Procter and Gamble) introduced Ivory Soap.

Estee Lauder

Elizabeth Arden (Elizabeth Arden) and Estée Lauder (Estée Lauder) pioneered the cosmetics industry for women, while J.C. Hall (Hallmark) created the greeting card industry into what we know it to be today, including the celebration of Valentine’s and Secretary’s Day.

While Americans rely on easy access to banking and credit services, this was not the case until the early 20th Century. For this, they can thank A.P. Giannini (Bank of America), who introduced the conveniences of modern retail banking.

Related: The Sheer Power of a Leader’s Personal Determination

Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) introduced the prototype and business model for modern franchising, as well as the efficient product of fast food. It still remains the primary benchmark model in both contemporary franchise and fast food industries.

Television, radio, print media and the Internet barrage us with countless marketing and advertising messages to buy myriads of products and services. While Henry Ford (Ford Motor) is credited with launching the Age of Consumerism, you can thank P.T. Barnum (Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus) for first introducing the principles of advertising and marketing, which are still in practice today.

Montgomery Ward (Montgomery Ward) was the first to understand, employ and apply the concept of direct mail marketing. He observed the need and opportunity as the United States population surged in the early 20th Century, providing shopping alternatives for geographically diverse populations, located primarily in rural communities where product choice was both limited and expensive.

Howard-Schultz-Starbucks

The concept of contemporary discount retailing is often credited to E.J. Korvette’s, an East Coast retail chain that operated between 1948 and 1980. However Frank Woolworth (F.W. Woolworth) “was the pioneer of price-driven retail, building an empire founded on chain stores and volume retailing. Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) applied its concepts with his own twist. Walton’s example influenced many other great leaders and the development of their companies, including Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank (Home Depot), and Howard Schultz (Starbucks).

Related: Do You Have the Fortitude and Resolve to Continue?

While the Internet came into prominence in the late 1990s, many individuals failed to utilize the power of ecommerce. Those who successfully pioneered its use include Charles Schwab (Charles Schwab) in discount brokerage services, Michael Dell (Dell Computer), who developed an effective ecommerce strategy to sell computers on-line, and Jeff Bezos (Amazon), who built an on-line empire employing his ecommerce strategies, after as a financial analyst he observed a phenomenal 2400% growth in Internet usage.

If you think, these individuals didn’t do it on their own, you’re mistaken. They not only had an idea, but also had the persistence and resilience to make it happen!

Adapted from Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2012)

If you would like to learn more about the positive contributions of the great American leaders 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.

______________________________________________________________________________

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 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Linking Structure to Action

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Jim Casey (l) and Claude Ryan (r) – UPS

Well-executed plans require organizational structure before they can be successfully implemented, and the great leaders understood this. A properly structured organization builds and drives lines of accountability throughout itself. As the former Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army, General Robert Wood [Sears] “ran the company along military lines: directors of hardware and research, for example, corresponded to army chiefs of ordnance or artillery. Channels of authority fell sheer from top to bottom, but autonomy rode down with them.” (1)

James Casey (United Parcel Service) started UPS as an adolescent, so he didn’t possess the military background that Wood had, but he “was an early and thoroughgoing advocate of what was called, in the 1920s, ‘scientific management.’ He believed efficiency produced profit. And he believed that efficiency was achieved by measuring everything – by keeping track of the cost (in time and money) of every step in the process of achieving a result – in this case, the result of successfully delivered packages that met customer expectations. Further, Jim Casey believed that whenever you found a process that improved efficiency, you made it standard practice and you supervised employees to achieve fidelity to that practice.” (2)

Wood and Casey were only a few of the great leaders who linked structure to action. Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) and Thomas Watson Sr. (IBM) all built organizations where structure was also solidly linked to action. So did Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy). “Rickover believed in courageous impatience. The power of unshakeable determination was critical for him, as good ideas do not get executed very often. Deciding what to do is the easy part … getting it done is more difficult. Being involved in details shows subordinates that if it’s not important to you … why should it be to them? When details are ignored, projects fail. This is not about doing things yourself; it’s about frequent reports (both oral & written) and from numerous sources (remember, he had 40 direct reports!!)” (3)

Peter Drucker observed, “Managers do not make decisions by opinions nor according to their preferences. They manage through the force of facts and not through the force of personality. ‘Bedside manners,’ I once heard Sloan say in a speech to GM managers, ‘are no substitute for the right diagnosis.’ ” (4)

(1) Doenecke Justus D., General Robert E. Wood: The Evolution of a Conservative (Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society)
(2) Nelson Douglas W. – President of The Annie E. Casey Foundation at Duke University’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy – speech to the Foundation Impact Research Group Seminar, March 9, 2005
(3) Wacker Watts, Courageous Impatience (www.firstmatter.com)
(4) Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)

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) $ 29.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about how the great American leaders linked organizational structure to action 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.
________________________________________________________________________
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 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Sheer Power of a Leader’s Personal Determination

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Estee Lauder

The levels of determination or resoluteness displayed by the great leaders surveyed were monumental. There were numerous examples, where the only thing leaders could depend upon was their own personal determination to push themselves forward to succeed. A notable example is Estée Lauder (Estée Lauder). “ ‘If you have a goal, if you want to be successful, if you really want to do it and become another Estée Lauder, you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to stick to it and you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing,’ said Lauder.

If ever there was an ambitious and relentless entrepreneur who refused to give up even in the face of tremendous doubt and uncertainty, Lauder was it. Stubborn even as a child, Lauder was a woman who refused to quit and walk away even when the going was tough. Her ability to convert her ambition into a charming and lucrative sales technique was one of the main components to Lauder’s success.

‘I have never worked a day in my life without selling,’ she said. ‘If I believe in something, I sell it and I sell it hard.’ Lauder had an unwavering faith in the quality of her products. She felt that if only she could get it in the hands of others, they too would instantly fall in love with her ‘beauty in a jar’ solutions. Thus, she was not afraid to take unusual yet creative steps to make a sale and she came to be known for her often use of guerilla tactics to close a deal.”

Determination is anchored in a leader’s beliefs, values and principles. In many instances, it is based upon the leader’s level of personal faith. Whatever the reason, determination and resoluteness is what allows leaders to remain motivated and to overcome whatever adversity, obstacles and barriers they encounter. Ross Perot (EDS) observed, “’to get things done, you’re just going to have to slug it out and take all the turbulence that goes with it…’ And, as for slugging it out, he has been fighting all his life, taking the heat, wearing down anyone who gets in his way, pursuing his goals with what one close colleague calls his ‘railroad track mentality…’ ‘Most people don’t have the stomach for the fight,’ Perot said. ‘If you don’t have the stomach to develop a plan, develop a strategy, take the hits and win the fight, I say you’re just kind of a morning glory. You’re going to wilt by noon.’ ”

Milton Hershey’s (Hershey Foods) determination was strongly influenced by his mother. She stood by him and actively assisted him in his business until her death. He noted, “When I left home as a boy to tackle the job of making a living, my mother gave me some good advice. She said: ‘Milton, you are now going out into the world to make a man out of yourself. My best advice to you is – when you tackle a job stick to it until you have won the battle.’ I have never forgotten these words; and, when I think about my business and the way it has grown, I think that this same good advice spurred me on in the past and enabled me to win in spite of obstacles.”

Sheer personal determination allowed Joseph Wilson (Xerox) to endure twelve years of frustrating development before Xerox could launch a successful copier. It allowed King Gillette (Gillette) to invest five disappointing years before he developed a razor blade, and upon doing so, only selling 51 razors and 168 blades during the first year. Without it, Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) would not have been able to fight numerous lawsuits and injunctions for years, before a single airplane was allowed to fly. When others would have given up, it was determination that allowed these leaders to endure, move slowly forward and succeed.
William Paley (CBS) used his determination as a motivational driving force. “Paley possessed a will, a force, of awesome power. When he wanted something, almost nothing stopped him… quotes Barry Diller, the formidable chairman of Twentieth Century Fox, after he first met Paley: ‘I have seen pure willpower.’ ”

Another notable example is Henry Clay Frick (H.C. Frick & Company), who sold his coke manufacturing company to Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel), and was instrumental in the creation of U.S. Steel with J.P. Morgan (J.P. Morgan Bank). “Unremitting work and unflinching determination was his style, to which he added his genius for seeing immediately into the heart of a business problem and taking command of the solution.”

Whatever their skills and capabilities, the great leaders demonstrated how they were able to leverage things to their advantage, using the sheer power of personal determination. They believed in their personal visions. They believed in themselves and their ideas. Above all, they were determined to succeed and held steadfastly to do whatever it would take to make them a reality. This allowed them to place their failures and setbacks in the proper perspective, enabling them to remain on course, no matter what was encountered. Determination won wars for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant. It built empires for John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil), Edward Harriman (Union Pacific) and George Westinghouse (Westinghouse). It was their driving force and the primary source of their strength.

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 the personal passion, resolve and determination of the great American leaders 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, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

The Productive Response to Failure

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The great and influential leaders were no strangers to failure. My research illustrates that most experienced levels of failure and adversity that would compel typical individuals to pack their bags and quit in frustration and disappointment. The levels of success they achieved did not come easily, but from persistence. Their personal levels of perseverance and self-reliance are what realistically defined them. Most viewed failure as a learning experience, rather than a defining event. Fred Smith (FedEx) observed, “Just because an idea isn’t implemented or doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that a person has failed.” [1]

General Robert Woods Johnson - Founder of Johnson and Johnson

Early in his career at Johnson & Johnson, General Robert Wood Johnson taught James Burke a valuable lesson about failure. “Shortly after he arrived at J&J in 1953 as a product director after three years at Procter & Gamble, Burke attempted to market several over-the-counter medicines for children. They all failed-and he was called in for a meeting with the chairman.

‘I assumed I was going to be fired,’ Burke recalls. ‘But instead, Johnson told me, ‘Business is all about making decisions, and you don’t make decisions without making mistakes. Don’t make that mistake again, but please be sure you make others.’”[2]

In 2001, John Chambers (Cisco) saw his company’s revenues and stock price fall off the cliff during the tech and telecom busts. He was challenged with the reality of massive and likely fatal failure. “Within days of realizing Cisco was crashing, Chambers leapt into trying to fix it. ‘He never dwelled on it,’ says Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM (IBM) … ‘John kept the company focused. He said this is where we are, and he drove the company forward.’

He reached out to [Jack] Welch (General Electric) and a handful of other CEOs. They told him that sudden downturns always take companies by surprise, ‘so I should quit beating myself up for being surprised,’ Chambers recalls. He did. Chambers decided that the free fall had been beyond his control. He now wraps it up in an analogy he retells time and again, likening the crash to a disastrous flood: It rarely happens, but when it does, there’s nothing you can do to stop it… Those other CEOs also told Chambers to figure out how bad it was going to get, take all the harsh action necessary to get through it and plan for the eventual upturn.” [3]

David Packard (Hewlett-Packard) faced failure and adversity in a gruff and straightforward manner. “When he returned to HP in the early 1970s after his stint as deputy secretary of defense and found the company on the verge of borrowing $100 million to cover a cash-flow shortage, he immediately met with employees and gave them what came to be known as a ‘Dave Gives ‘Em Hell’ speech. Packard lined up the division managers in front of employees and told them, ‘If they don’t get inventories under control, they’re not going to be your managers for very long.’ Within six months, the company once again had positive cash flow, to the tune of $40 million.” [4]

John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) advised, “‘Look ahead… Be sure that you are not deceiving yourself at any time about actual conditions.’ He notes that when a business begins to fail, most men hate ‘to study the books and face the truth.” [5]

[1] Federal Express’s Fred Smith (Inc. Magazine, October 1, 1986)
[2] Alumni Achievement Awards: James E. Burke (Harvard Business School, 2003)
[3] Maney Kevin, Chambers, Cisco Born Again (USA Today, January 21, 2004)
[4] O’Hanlon Charlene, David Packard: High-Tech Visionary (CRN, November 8, 2000)
[5] Baida Peter, Rockefeller Remembers (American Heritage Magazine, September/October 1988, Volume 39, Issue 6)

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 leaders responded to failure and adversity 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

Are You Willing to Pay the Price?

with one comment

All of the great leaders I surveyed experienced what I describe as the Crucible Principle. It states that: Individuals experience a prolonged, but undetermined period of adversity, disappointment, discouragement and failure early in their careers, which either refines them or breaks their spirits. How they respond to these circumstances will define their character, refine their critical thinking and establish their legitimacy as a leader.

Individuals who do not undergo crucible development early in their careers will not develop the critical thinking skills and character to handle adversities, problems and crisises that will arise in the future. This will result in more difficulties, which will place them at a disadvantage, and undermine their legitimacy as a leader.

Leadership greatness is achieved only after individuals experience an emotional caldron full of adversity, setbacks, failures and obstacles that refine both their character and their vision. It is a period where courage and fortitude are tested and cultivated. In general, many individuals who experience the Crucible Principle encounter unrelenting waves of pain, disappointment, chaos, confusion and discouragement. They see no end in sight. They simply give up and quit.

“Resilience from the trials of life’s adversity has always been the filter that separates folk heroes from other leaders. Anthropologist Joseph Campbell profiled ancient leaders across cultures and revealed a shared ability to transcend crushing defeat. This was rooted in a drive for a lasting legacy that can provide for a mythic sense of purpose to ‘triumph the despair and shame of failure. Setbacks actually challenge us to come back with an even greater sense of mission…

Many other great leaders, such as Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, Staples founder Tom Steiuherg and Jet Blue founder David Neelenian, created revolutionary enterprises only after having been fired as victims of power struggles. Others, such as Autodesk’s Carol Bartz, led strategic transformations while battling life-threatening health crises; and some, such as lifestyle maven Martha Stewart, came back as a hugely successful leader following time served in prison. ” [1]

The existence of this principle and the number of times it surfaced was particularly surprising during the course of my research. The great leaders surveyed experienced difficult levels of adversity, including a sizable number of obstacles they had to overcome. Success didn’t come easy to them, and it was far from automatic. They were relentless in the levels of persistence they demonstrated, buttressed by the strength of their personal vision. They refused to quit and accept failure. When they encountered failure, they picked themselves up and started over again, and sometimes more than once, until they ultimately succeeded.

The existence of the Crucible Principle was supported by the fact that the average age of the leaders surveyed who started their business or achieved their first major corporate position, was 34 years old. This means between 13 to 16 years of their lives were spent working their way into a position of responsibility. This data is predicted on the assumption that most started working when they were between 18 to 21 years old. Some notable examples include:Jack Welch, who started his career at General Electric as a junior engineer, almost left in frustration during his first year,Arthur Vining Davis (Alcoa) was the third employee to be hired at the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (Alcoa) as an assistant; and Arthur Blank (Home Depot), who began his career with the Handy Dan Hardware Company, where he worked for 14 years until he was fired as a regional manager.

An additional significant factor was the duration of the application of the Crucible Principle. My research establishes that it averages 12 years in length. This typically is a period filled with pain, heartache, frustration and failure. The great leaders’ ability to succeed and prevail ultimately determined their future success. For any individual seeking immediate success, this should be an eye opening fact. During my own younger years a personal mentor constantly reminded me: “The wheel of success turns very slowly.” Some notable examples of the Crucible Principle include Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines), who waged a four-year legal battle before he flew a single passenger, just to incorporate and start-up his airline. During the early years of its existence, he was forced to sell one of his four airplanes to meet his payroll.

It took Joe Wilson, president of the Haloid Company, twelve years of frustration and continuous investment to commercialize a patent that he had purchased for xerography, to produce the first Xerox machine.

Jeff Bezos observed, “Optimism is essential when trying to do anything difficult because difficult things often take a long time. That optimism can carry you through the various stages as the long term unfolds. And it’s the long term that matters.” [2]

Once the great leaders emerged and achieved levels of prominence, they averaged 25 years in their positions. This does not mean that their lives were easy and carefree. These typically were periods of continuing conflict and adversity, yet they also were the most productive periods of their lives.

Malcolm McLean had founded a successful trucking business. Looking for a way to solve shipping bottlenecks and lower overall costs, he used his resources to develop containerizing cargo. His innovations ultimately revolutionized the shipping industry through the standardization of an integrated system of containers, ships, railroads and harbor facilities. His ideas virtually impact the entire world due to the expansion of global trading.

Henry Flagler made his fortune as John D. Rockefeller’s partner at Standard Oil. He used his considerable financial resources to create the tourism industry in the State of Florida by building railroads and elegant resorts.

[1] Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fired With Enthusiasm (Directorship) April 1. 2007

[2] Rob Walker, Jeff Bezos: Amazon.com – America’s 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs (Inc. Magazine) April 1, 2004

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 the sacrifices experienced by the great American leaders and how they overcame them 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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