Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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“Success is the Sum of Details”

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Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Harvey Firestone (Firestone Tire) stated, “success is the sum of details.” The great leaders uniformly paid extraordinary close attention to details.

It is an important attribute or aspect of their thinking. It influenced virtually every aspect of their lives, which ranged from ruthless efficiency to product quality, to how they treated their employees. As architects of growth, their attention to detail allowed them to formulate comprehensive plans and blueprints, which supported the building and growth of their companies.

Many leaders like James J. Hill (Great Northern Railway), Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) and Robert Wood (Sears) all devoured as much data and information as they could get their hands on, to generate detailed plans and blueprints for their business, as did William Boeing (Boeing) and John Jacob Astor. Bill Gates (Microsoft) “also has incredible focus and knowledge of his industry. As Ross Perot once noted, ‘Gates is a guy who knows his product.’ ”

In addition to paying close attention to details, the great leaders developed unparalleled competence and expertise through years of experience. They all emerged from long and dark valleys of frustration, disappointment, adversity and often failure, which tested their mettle, polished their skills and competencies and generated deep levels of perseverance and resilience.

None of the great leaders surveyed ever appeared to succeed without first enduring what I call a long and frustrating “crucible period.” These experiences and the lessons gained within this “crucible period” allowed them to possess the necessary skills, experience and expertise to take advantage of opportunities presented to them. They were able to recognize them for what they were, and knew how to plan and profit from them.

A notable example is Theodore Vail (AT&T). He “left the post office service to establish the telephone business. He had been in authority over thirty-five hundred postal employees, and was the developer of a system that covered every inhabited portion of the country.

Consequently, he had a quality of experience that was immensely valuable in straightening out the tangled affairs of the telephone. Line by line, he mapped out a method, a policy, a system. He introduced a larger view of the telephone business… He persuaded half a dozen of his post office friends to buy stock, so that in less than two months the first ‘Bell Telephone Company’ was organized, with $450,000 capital and a service of twelve thousand telephones.” [1]

In 1902, one hundred years after it was founded, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, commonly known as DuPont, was sold by the surviving partners to three of the great-grandsons of the original founder, led by Pierre du Pont. He had grown up in the family business and had developed the necessary expertise to assume control over it. He understood the associated problems, issues and weaknesses that needed to be rectified, and drafted and executed the necessary plans to transform the company.

“As chief of financial operations, Pierre du Pont oversaw the restructuring of the company along modern corporate lines. He created a centralized hierarchical management structure, developed sophisticated accounting and market forecasting techniques, and pushed for diversification and increasing emphasis on research and development.

He also introduced the principle of return on investment, a key modern management technique. From 1902 to 1914, Pierre kept a firm rein on the company’s growth, but with the onset of World War I he guided DuPont through a period of breakneck expansion financed by advance payments on Allied munitions contracts.” [2]

As a primary supplier of paints and lacquers required for automotive production, DuPont became a major investor in General Motors. Pierre DuPont replaced William Durant, the company’s founder, as CEO. DuPont made a key decision in promoting Alfred Sloan to the office of president. Sloan developed a detailed blueprint that transformed GM into the largest industrial company the world had ever known at that time.

He “created structure so people could be more creative with their time and have it be well spent. He also came up with the idea that senior executives should exercise some central control but should not interfere too much with the decision making in each operation.

It is difficult to describe many of Sloan’s ideas because most of them would seem like common concepts of a business, yet they were new and innovative at the time. Largely due to his invention, GM became the pioneer in market research, public relations and advertising. Before Sloan, people had totally different conceptions of these common parts of the American corporation.” [3]

Due to Sloan’s success, his corporate model highly influenced the development of the modern American corporation. His theories were actively practiced for over 50 years and remained unchallenged until Jack Welch’s (General Electric) influence permeated the mid-1980s.

Related:

  1. Do You Have the Talent to Execute Get Things Done?
  2. Linking Structure to Action
  3. The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

References:

  1. Casson Herbert N., The History of the Telephone. Chapter II (February 1, 1997)
  2. Pierre S. du Pont: 1915 (www2.dupont.com)
  3. Alfred P. Sloan, Inventor of the Modern Corporation (Invent Help Invention Newsletter, August 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

Four Concepts Define Key Leadership Responsibilities

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Managers learn the rules that define their basic responsibilities by responding to this question: “What’s wrong, and what specific steps do I need to take to fix it?” So, when senior management passes down mandates, timelines and goals, the manager’s job is to work within the prescribed corporate framework to produce results.

Leaders, on the other hand, self-direct, craft a vision, make plans, achieve goals, build cohesiveness and inspire others while holding themselves personally accountable for their area of the company. The question they respond to is: “What’s possible here, and who cares?”

Related: The Roadmap to Effective Leadership

A leader’s responsibilities are defined by a set of concepts and qualities that motivate people to “get on board” with his or her vision. In fact, there are four basic concepts that help leaders develop the creative energy needed to focus on everyone’s efforts, which guides all employees beyond routine thinking and performance.

Unlike a conventional manager, a leader’s responsibilities are not defined by one question. Generally, a leader’s central responsibility is to move his or her unit from a “mission impossible” to a “mission outcome” stance. This shift requires leaders to embrace multiple areas of skill and direction. To constantly move forward, they focus on specific concepts to help define their key leadership responsibilities.

Management and leadership responsibilities often overlap, but leadership is defined in a completely different context. Leaders’ responsibilities lie in four key areas: self-direction, goal achievement, flexibility and inspiring greatness in others. Leaders recognize that these responsibilities are taken care of through the four actions outlined below.

Related: Do You Have Faith in Your People?

Gain the Cooperation of Others

Establishing a cooperative spirit is the primary responsibility of leadership. This spirit drives an organization and its people to higher levels of productivity and accomplishment. For leaders to be effective they must build a cooperative effort by relying on the following techniques:

  • Leaders understand basic human needs and desires and nudge people in the right direction. They know how motivation works to everyone’s benefit.
  • They make emotional connections. An effective leader connects with people under their direction to build an interdependence that fosters more long-term gain than individual efforts would.
  • They acknowledge the need for followers.
  • Leaders understand their people. They take time to converse and ask questions that bring information, concerns, ideas and perspectives to the forefront. Then, they act positively upon them.

Related: The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

Listen and Learn Well

  • Leaders never forget where they have been, and use their experiences to shape where they are going, and why. They place learning and listening at the top of the list in terms of building skills and ability. Learning from past errors in judgment prevents their repetition.
  • They listen to everyone and everything. Leaders have their ears and eyes on every person, process and situation. They listen for ideas, impending concerns, problems, successes and unhappiness in their employees. They absorb everything and act on the knowledge gained to prevent major problems from occurring.
  • Leaders seize all opportunities to make people feel successful, competent and comfortable in the work environment. Excellent leaders are not reactive, but proactive by nature.

Related: Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader

Put the Needs of Others First

  • Effective leaders separate themselves from the rest of the pack through self-sacrifice and by setting their egos aside. Good leaders are never afraid to work alongside their people to finish a project or resolve a situation.
  • Leaders are flexible, slowing down or speeding up while assessing their employees’ productivity and efforts.
  • Leaders understand that keeping tasks simple and obvious makes for a committed workforce. Employees desire to know precisely what is expected of them and how to complete their assigned tasks. A leader focuses on ways to make their assignments and projects more direct and clearly defined.

Related: Do You Have the Talent to Execute Get Things Done?

Performing Consistently

  • By understanding that people are different, leaders solidify mutual respect and communication, and maintain openness and fairness with every employee.
  • Leaders build cohesiveness through cooperative efforts by holding employees and themselves accountable. They know this is necessary to achieve their goals and ideals.
  • Effective leaders realize that their actions and words must not send mixed messages. Leaders should stay the course, even under duress or in the midst of adversity. They must remain genuine and use discretion in all judgments they make. Excellent leaders will reinforce their motivation, inspiration and expectations to maintain a strong leadership position.

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on leadership roles and responsibilities to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Leadership Roles & Responsibilities: Pinpoint Leadership Skills Development Training Series. 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 Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

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Admiral Hyman Rickover on an Inspection Tour

The value of experience and expertise in evaluating potential risks cannot be overstated. As has been previously addressed, the great leaders endured a “crucible period” of disappointment, frustration, failure and adversity. These shaped their experiences and expertise and prepared them to adequately assess risks that were placed before them.

A case in point of this was J.P. Morgan (J.P. Morgan Bank). “There can be no doubt that Morgan was a dreamer, occupying his time thinking of grand schemes and larger than life business deals. But, he never lost himself in the clouds. He knew that in order to achieve success on the scale that he dreamed of, he needed to take practical and concrete steps in that direction. Thus, through education and taking on junior positions at investment firms and banking houses, Morgan took the time he needed to gain the experience that would enable him to realize his dreams.” [1]

J.C. Penney (J.C. Penney) observed, “The greatest misfortune that can befall a man is to be placed in an advanced position without having earned the experience below it. Business progress is like climbing a ladder. It must be ascended rung by rung.” [2]

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) having built the U.S. nuclear navy, while directly interviewing and hiring over 10,000 officers during his career asserted, “A cause of many of our mistakes and problems is ignorance.” [3] He stated in a 1981 speech at the Columbia University School of Engineering, “Our factories and companies are increasingly being bought, sold, and operated by professional administrators, lawyers, and financial experts who have little understanding of their products, the technology involved, or the needs of customers. As these professional ‘managers’ reach top corporate positions, others emulate them and avoid technical education in favor of management studies. In my opinion, our universities should emphasize the importance of a solid grounding in substantive learning and downgrade so-called management science. What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense – none of which can be taught in a classroom.” [4]

The lessons extracted from experience and expertise is vital in the task of assessing risks. Individuals intuitively seem to know exactly where the roadblocks and detours are and how to avoid them. They possess the wisdom to understand the consequences of past mistakes and faulty decisions and utilize the knowledge gained to their advantage.

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 value of experience and expertise 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, All Rights Reserved


[1]  Carmichael Evan, How He Built an Empire: J.P. Morgan’s Success Factors (evancarmichael.com)

[2]  Penney J.C., Lines of a Layman (Channel Press, Great Neck, NY, 1956) p. 105

[3]  Admiral Rickover H.C., Thoughts on Man’s Purpose in Life (speech presented at the San Diego Rotary Club, 1977)

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

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

November 29, 2011 at 11:09 am

Success is the Sum of Details

with 2 comments

Harvey Firestone - Firestone Tire

Harvey Firestone (Firestone Tire) stated, “success is the sum of details.” The great leaders uniformly paid extraordinary close attention to details. Throughout this book it is frequently referenced, since it is an important attribute or aspect of their thinking. It influenced virtually every aspect of their lives, which ranged from ruthless efficiency to product quality, to how they treated their employees. As architects of growth, their attention to detail allowed them to formulate comprehensive plans and blueprints, which supported the building and growth of their companies.

Many leaders like James J. Hill (Great Northern Railway), Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) and Robert Wood (Sears) all devoured as much data and information as they could get their hands on, to generate detailed plans and blueprints for their business, as did William Boeing (Boeing) and John Jacob Astor. Bill Gates (Microsoft) “also has incredible focus and knowledge of his industry. As Ross Perot once noted, ‘Gates is a guy who knows his product.’ ”

In addition to paying close attention to details, the great leaders developed unparalleled competence and expertise through years of experience. They all emerged from long and dark valleys of frustration, disappointment, adversity and often failure, which tested their mettle, polished their skills and competencies and generated deep levels of perseverance and resilience. None of the great leaders surveyed ever appeared to succeed without first enduring what I call a long and frustrating “crucible period.” These experiences and the lessons gained within this “crucible period” allowed them to possess the necessary skills, experience and expertise to take advantage of opportunities presented to them. They were able to recognize them for what they were, and knew how to plan and profit from them. A notable example is Theodore Vail (AT&T). He “left the post office service to establish the telephone business. He had been in authority over thirty-five hundred postal employees, and was the developer of a system that covered every inhabited portion of the country. Consequently, he had a quality of experience that was immensely valuable in straightening out the tangled affairs of the telephone. Line by line, he mapped out a method, a policy, a system. He introduced a larger view of the telephone business… He persuaded half a dozen of his post office friends to buy stock, so that in less than two months the first ‘Bell Telephone Company’ was organized, with $450,000 capital and a service of twelve thousand telephones.”

In 1902, one hundred years after it was founded, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, commonly known as DuPont, was sold by the surviving partners to three of the great-grandsons of the original founder, led by Pierre du Pont. He had grown up in the family business and had developed the necessary expertise to assume control over it. He understood the associated problems, issues and weaknesses that needed to be rectified, and drafted and executed the necessary plans to transform the company. “As chief of financial operations, Pierre du Pont oversaw the restructuring of the company along modern corporate lines. He created a centralized hierarchical management structure, developed sophisticated accounting and market forecasting techniques, and pushed for diversification and increasing emphasis on research and development. He also introduced the principle of return on investment, a key modern management technique. From 1902 to 1914, Pierre kept a firm rein on the company’s growth, but with the onset of World War I he guided DuPont through a period of breakneck expansion financed by advance payments on Allied munitions contracts.”

As a primary supplier of paints and lacquers required for automotive production, DuPont became a major investor in General Motors. Pierre DuPont replaced William Durant, the company’s founder, as CEO. DuPont made a key decision in promoting Alfred Sloan to the office of president. Sloan developed a detailed blueprint that transformed GM into the largest industrial company the world had ever known at that time. He “created structure so people could be more creative with their time and have it be well spent. He also came up with the idea that senior executives should exercise some central control but should not interfere too much with the decision making in each operation. It is difficult to describe many of Sloan’s ideas because most of them would seem like common concepts of a business, yet they were new and innovative at the time. Largely due to his invention, GM became the pioneer in market research, public relations and advertising. Before Sloan, people had totally different conceptions of these common parts of the American corporation.” Due to Sloan’s success, his corporate model highly influenced the development of the modern American corporation. His theories were actively practiced for over 50 years and remained unchallenged until Jack Welch’s (General Electric) influence permeated the mid-1980s.

[1]  Maury Klein, The Change Makers (Henry Holt and Company, LLC, New York, NY 2003) p. 106-107

[2]  Casson Herbert N., The History of the Telephone. Chapter II (February 1, 1997)

[3]  Pierre S. du Pont: 1915 (www2.dupont.com)

[4]  Alfred P. Sloan, Inventor of the Modern Corporation (Invent Help Invention Newsletter, August 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 how the great American leaders attention to details to build plans and blueprints and formulate strategies for their business, 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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