Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘failure

Interaction is a Necessary Component of a Vibrant Workplace

with one comment

Astute leaders guide and direct from the front lines of the company. Leaders are continually present and interacting with their employees in order to see what is slowly transforming and changing and what is causing unit frustrations. Frontline guiding and directing is a necessary process enabling leaders to apply their abilities to moving the organization forward.

There is a critical difference between the roles of a manager and a leader. While many managers are considered leaders, some not totally committed to sound leadership principles choose to direct from behind their desks. This results in relinquishing the advantage gained by immediate, firsthand knowledge of their organization’s daily activities, progress or frustrating hindrances.

Related: Four Primary Leadership Roles and Responsibilities

Ongoing interaction with employees is the active practice of visible leadership. Leaders cannot lead from their office. They must continually be in the midst of their employees, seeing for themselves what is happening and what is holding their unit back.

Frontline guiding and directing is a critical concept for leaders to understand and apply. In order for employees to be comfortable with change and transformation within their organization and the constant risk taking that goes with it, leaders must be ever present to train, direct, and reassure each individual member. They must be there to cheer every accomplishment, no matter how small. This can only be done successfully when leaders are continually involved in their employees’ daily activities.

Practical leadership demands that leaders have an active, ongoing presence within their organizational units. This presence creates a visible strength achieved through openly and consistently interacting with all employees. When leaders develop an interactive presence and work to achieve active visibility, they have the ability to fully apply their leadership skills and capabilities. Effective interaction allows leaders to:

Understand Frustrations

Only when leaders are constantly interacting with their employees can they fully understand the daily frustrations they are experiencing individually and as a group. While often minor, these frustrations serve as mini-barriers to productivity and efficiency.

Frustrations are often not known about unless a leader takes the time to observe what is actually occurring. They may be considered minor parts of the work process that employees fail to mention due to their insignificance. However, when considered collectively and cumulatively, smaller frustrations have the power to hemorrhage an organization’s productivity.

Related: The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

Observe Firsthand What Is Occurring

Reports and meetings cannot take the place of the leader personally observing what is happening within their division or unit. A casual walkthrough does not provide sufficient opportunity to clearly observe and internalize what is actually occurring at any one point in time.

Close observation allows leaders to identify certain occurrences that produce either a positive or negative impact upon the organization. Only when leaders practice visible leadership and openly interact with their employees will a true picture of the organizational unit’s overall progression and advancement emerge. Without this firsthand insight and knowledge, leaders cannot effectually move any part of their organization forward.

Encourage Open Communication

Visible leadership and open interactivity brings leaders out of their comfort zones and away from their desks. Being an interactive leader puts them on an equal plane with their employees, which makes them much more accessible and approachable. When this occurs, employees feel more comfortable to talk about frustrations, concerns, problems and issues that may not otherwise be disclosed. This open communication directly drives the free-flow of knowledge and information that leaders need to be successful.

Related: Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

Provide Insight into Solutions

When leaders become fully interactive, and observe and communicate with their employees, they gain insights into existing problems. Leaders use these insights to much more easily reach solutions to the immediate and pressing problems facing their employees. Minor frustrations are quickly remedied and eliminated to minimize productivity losses.

Change transformations in any organization entail countless daily decisions. Open interaction facilitates the decision making process by encouraging employees to make cooperative or independent judgments in the name of reaching objectives and eliminating needless frustrations.

Provide Insights into Problems and Opportunities

Leaders typically have the advantage of the “macro view” of their organization. Sometimes they are focused on this larger picture to the extent that they forget they can—and should—look for and watch what is actually transpiring in their front lines. While this field of vision will vary by the level occupied in the organization, leaders do have the advantage of obtaining increased knowledge through a wider perspective that is not available to their employees.

Leaders who are active and visible in their organizations have the ability to witness what is happening and can identify potential problems and opportunities because of it. Their position often allows them to act on this knowledge to either eliminate a potential problem or tap an opportunity. In either case a frontline perspective helps leaders and employees save their company money. The only sure way to accomplish any of the above is to take full advantage of applying all the available knowledge obtained from a more “micro view” of the organization.

Related: Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Share in Successes and Failures

An essential role for leaders is to act as a motivator and cheerleader. While corporate leaders may not like to think of themselves as cheerleaders, the meaning goes beyond the term to the bottom line. When leaders are actively present and daily interacting with and encouraging their employees, they are in the best position to motivate and inspire them to achieve beyond expectations.

As their presence creates an impact on the organizational unit, leaders are able to share in the successes and failures of their employees as they test new ideas and concepts and help their organization adapt in the face of change. Doing this creates a bond of loyalty between leaders and employees as it steadily and securely increases the organizational unit’s cohesiveness.

Related: Motivation Is More Than Money

Excerpt: Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

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

Three Reasons Why Leaders Fail

with 17 comments

It is unrealistic to expect that all forms of leadership are successful—because they are not. The nature of leadership is such that leaders are going to take risks and fail. An effective leader learns from failure and moves forward. However, there are failures in leadership not associated with risk taking that can undermine and paralyze an organization.

With any leadership failure, one must strive to distill the reasons and causes behind it. Such failures prevent leaders and their organizations from moving forward because the subsequent barriers and voids stifle a company’s ability to seek new opportunities. Consequently, the company will not be able to take advantage of situations that increase its competitiveness, productivity and market strength.

Everyone in the organization feels the effects of failure. Often these failures can be attributed to leaders who either are improperly trained or misapply leadership principles. In either case, they often fail by backsliding into old habits.

It is important for leaders to understand that their knowledge, expertise and leadership skills will be continually challenged in a volatile and complex work environment. Overwhelmed by time and work requirements, they can easily create a situation that causes leadership failure and leaves a void for their employees.

Leadership failure is generally the result of succumbing to the three shortcomings that are discussed in this section. Highly effective leaders learn to analyze the factors behind these shortcomings that hinder their ability to lead consistently, creatively and responsibly.

Barriers, unforeseen situations and negative influences are guaranteed to surface at one time or another to test one’s ability to lead effectively. These moments of adversity can disclose areas of ineffectiveness or challenge successes that have been achieved. Leaders need to take preventative action to make sure they do not succumb to these shortcomings.

Related: Your Personal Attitudes Shape Your Environment

Self-Imposed Barriers

Many leaders unintentionally create personal barriers that erode their ability to maintain leadership principles, methods and motivation. Leaders who discover themselves doing any of the following should take immediate action to stop.

  • “Backseat leadership” is exhibited through indecisiveness, fence sitting and avoiding responsibility.
  • Professional and personal goals are not formalized or articulated.
  • Leaders lack a positive approach to serious issues, or fail to present suggested solutions for a defined problem.
  • They don’t understand their own strengths and weaknesses, refuse to ask others for their input, and lack a personal improvement plan.
  • Different ethical standards are applied to their personal and professional lives.
  • They don’t share ideas, time, encouragement, respect, compliments and feedback with others.
  • Employees’ weaknesses are focused on and criticized when, instead, the leader should build on and reinforce the individual’s strengths and abilities.
  • They fail to work on personal development, or don’t take it seriously enough to make a difference.

Related: The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

Insufficient Understanding of Leadership

  • Leadership is always responsible. It is not simply a position, job title or a manager overseeing employees. It is both a science and an art that is constantly operating. It requires motivating, monitoring, talking and training through active hands-on involvement. It removes barriers to effectiveness. In sum, leadership is responsible for everything the organization does or fails to do.
  • Leadership means understanding that the factual basis of the organization continues to change. In other words, the thinking that made an organization’s success possible yesterday is the same thinking that can result in its failure tomorrow.
  • Technology will never be able to replace leadership. The question leaders answer is, “What is the organization going to depend on when technology undermines it?” It is dangerous to believe computers and technicians can replace leaders.
  • Leadership is about looking below the surface, since the greatest dangers and the biggest opportunities reside there, hidden unless searched out. Leadership also means seeing employees as an untapped resource that can collectively identify some of the best ideas and solutions to an organization’s problems. Leaders in this role look to workers for ideas, identification of problems and possible solutions.
  • Leadership requires looking beyond the horizon. It means acknowledging that success can blind an organization. Leadership skills encourage leaders to watch for changing trends, needs, potential devastating occurrences, and possible problems that can hinder an organization’s progress.

Related: When the Process of Change Spins Out of Control

Inflexible Goals

Goal setting is a powerful tool—but only a tool; leaders should not make more of it than what it is. Leaders are masters of their goals: their goals serve them. Leaders often fail when goals are not adjusted to reflect their current knowledge about what is best for themselves or the organization.

Setting specific goals builds commitment to achieving results. However, maintaining an inflexible commitment to a goal is dangerous. The time invested or the costs associated with a specific goal can impair the leader’s ability to objectively assess the value of one goal over another.

As goals are pursued, leaders also need to continually seek new opportunities. They can accomplish both simultaneously by doing the following:

  • Think strategically each and every day.
  • Actively seek out daily opportunities.
  • Realize a leader’s job is to identify new opportunities and quickly take advantage of them.
  • Have employees think in terms of, “What if…?” or, “How could…?” or, “Why couldn’t we…?” and other mind-expanding questions.
  • Talk with others outside the organization to discover their views on future directions.
  • Seek information from people that have a different perspective. Leaders often gravitate toward people who are similar to them, who don’t challenge them sufficiently to make a difference.
  • Remember that goal setting does reign supreme when achieving organizational success. However, to prevent leadership failure, never let goals obstruct the identification of new opportunities that may be more valuable.

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on dealing with the challenges of leadership to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Dealing with the Challenges of Leadership: Pinpoint Leadership Skill 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

Eight Problem Solving Traps

leave a comment »

The process of problem solving can at first blush appear relatively simple: the difficulty is defined, facts and evidence are collected and analyzed, and a solution agreed to. However, because imperfect people make decisions, the entire process is fraught with traps that can lead to serious errors in judgment.

Problem solving is not to be taken lightly: it is a step-by-step process that when properly sequenced and followed should produce solid results. Unskilled problem solvers will often misinterpret the issues, attempting to solve symptoms rather than root causes, and makes the situation more confusing than it has to be.

It is important for individuals to understand that effective problem solving often consumes more time than most people are willing to invest. Rather than go about it properly, many just want to react and deal with the problem quickly. However, the time invested to thoroughly investigate and solve a problem more often than not produces a more successful solution—and happier employees and customers.

Individuals can easily fall into a number of common problem solving traps. The resulting consequences are often faulty decisions based on poorly framed questions, inadequate analysis and a host of other factors. Rather than solve anything, these traps often complicate the problem, making it more difficult to resolve.

‘Plunging In’

In this case, individuals begin to gather facts, data and information and form conclusions without thoroughly exploring the problem. They are in a reactive mode and desire to quickly dismiss the problem, which leads to faulty decisions based upon unsubstantiated assumptions. Such hastiness can worsen the situation and make the solution more elusive.

Wrong Problem

Individuals set out to resolve the wrong problem because they have established a mental framework for their decision with little or no forethought: they incorrectly frame the problem or use the wrong boundaries and reference points, causing them to overlook the best options or to lose focus on the issue.

Lack of Definition

Individuals fail to consciously define the problem in more than one way. In other instances, their definition is biased or unduly influenced by others.

Problems must be viewed and framed from a variety of perspectives to adequately define and resolve the problem. When definitions are limited, so are the available solutions.

Overconfidence

Individuals are too sure of their assumptions and opinions and they become overconfident, failing to collect key facts, data and information. They trust their intuition and the most readily available information or convenient facts without taking the time to fully investigate the problem.

Lack of Adequate Analysis

Rather than taking a systematic approach to problem solving, many individuals instead believe they can keep the facts straight in their heads. Consequently, they believe they are making intuitive judgments based upon the information available and don’t engage in careful analysis. Here, one often overlooks key evidence that can impact the ultimate solution.

Groups that fail to use good problem solving skills and processes can also fail to make sound decisions, or they fall into a groupthink mode where everyone agrees with one another without using critical thinking skills.

Faulty Interpretation

There are instances when people refuse to properly interpret the results of their analysis because it runs counter to their beliefs or does not fit their own set of assumptions. In other cases, pride gets in the way of arriving at an appropriate decision.

Failure to Keep Track

Many individuals assume they will automatically remember their past experiences. Research has demonstrated that when individuals maintain systematic records that they periodically review, they can distill valuable lessons that could be applied to later situations.

Failure to Have a Formal Process

People who fail to develop a formal problem solving process that they can use fairly and consistently will often repeatedly fall into the problem solving traps detailed in this lesson.

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about problem solving techniques, refer to Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. 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
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.

March 13, 2012 at 9:58 am

Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

with 4 comments

Jeff Bezos - Amazon.com

Effective leaders adhered to an unalterable expectation that mistakes and failure need to be an acceptable part of the process of innovation. They opposed “zero tolerance for mistakes” policies, many of which are still being practiced in many companies today. They considered these to be hindrances to innovation.

“It’s easy to believe that Jeff Bezos is one of the great innovators. But that’s not exactly the case. His rise into Fortune 500-dom actually has little to do with innovation and more to do with iteration. If anything, Amazon demonstrates how a cutting-edge Internet company – of all things – can succeed slowly. The trick is taking a million tiny steps – and quickly learning from your missteps.” [1]

The mega-inventors of the 19th Century are also prime examples of this philosophy. “[George] Westinghouse (Westinghouse) built on his engineering skills, learning how to design and evaluate industrial trials. Time after time he turned trial failures into commercial successes. Even his competitors hailed his problem solving skills…” [2] “[Thomas] Edison (Edison Electric) viewed even disasters as an opportunity for learning. On one occasion his lab stove went out in the dead of winter, causing an assortment of expensive chemicals to freeze. On another occasion unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of bemoaning the losses, Edison put aside all other projects to catalogue changes in the properties of the bottled substances… ‘He knew how to turn lemons into lemonade.’[3]

Walt Disney (Disney) took a proactive approach toward mistakes. “Walt found a way to push improvement without laying blame. [He] take(s) a look at what [someone says]… not glossing over a problem with the gag. He implicitly acknowledges it could be better. But rather than indulge an employee’s criticism of another worker, he demands a positive, forward-thinking attitude – ‘what we can do to make it better…’ Walt kept employees engaged and contributing by not shooting down suggestions, but instead steering employees toward improving their ideas… Walt’s approach to suggestions as the difference between responding ‘Yes, if…’ or ‘No, because…’ [4]

As Sam Walton grew Wal-Mart into a retailing giant, he realized that “not all of his ideas worked. The minnow buckets didn’t sell. People in Wisconsin didn’t go for his Moon Pies. But when he saw he was wrong, he admitted his mistake and went on to try something else. And he wanted his associates to be the same way. He’d get them together on Saturday mornings to share their success and admit their failures. That culture of candor produced a great environment to capture ideas. It helped that he had ‘very little capacity for embarrassment.’[5]


[1]  Quittner Josh, The Charming Life of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Fortune Magazine, April 15, 2008)

[2]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 61

[3]  McAuliffe Kathleen, The Undiscovered World of Thomas Edison (Atlantic Magazine, December 1995)

[4]  Niles Robert, Disney Legends Recall Walt Disney and the ‘Yes, It…. Way of Management (Theme Park Insider, November 19, 2009)

[5]  Walton Sam Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2012)

If you would like to learn more about the power of innovation displayed by 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
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.

February 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

Seven Productive Responses to Change

with 5 comments

It is difficult to predict leaders’ responses to change, as they must continually be on guard for unpredictable occurrences and forces, and in some cases immediately respond to a series of unknown and unanticipated events and circumstances. The only certainty is that change will occur, and leaders must be at the forefront of the process regardless of circumstances and apprehensions.

Change undoubtedly poses a challenge to every leader. This is because it can be anticipated only to the degree that it is predictable. Long-term changes and trends can be generally anticipated, but these changes are often complicated by numerous factors and elements continually altering and transforming themselves at varying rates of speed.

The total process is like trying to navigate across a table filled with a number of spinning tops: each spins at different directions and speeds, bumping into one another, knocking each other out of their orbits. Controlling the process of change is similar. In this type of atmosphere it is extremely difficult, and at times virtually impossible, to plot a straight and stable course.

The difficulty in controlling the process of change is important for leaders to appreciate, as their reaction demands a high degree of flexibility and adaptability to rapidly altering environments, circumstances and events. Their response must include continual and active involvement in the midst of change, “getting their hands dirty” as problems and crises erupt, handling and resolving each as the process of transformation moves through its charted course.
The concept of change also demands that leaders embrace stability and instability within the organization as it transforms itself. Several strategies that leaders need to employ during periods of change include:

Being Visible

The very nature of leadership demands that leaders be actively involved in their organizational unit. Leadership does not emanate from behind a desk or within an office. Leaders must be active and visible in the front lines of their business. Only when leaders are out and about among their employees can they see and feel the pace of progress, and witness firsthand the problems their employees are encountering.

Testing

Paces of change and organizational transformations demand that countless ideas be constantly generated and experimented with at all levels. Undoubtedly, some ideas will fail and some will succeed. The only way leaders can sort out the winners from the losers is by constantly applying new ideas and concepts on the line to test for feasibility and adaptability to their organization.

Listening

As leaders become increasingly visible, it is important that they simultaneously begin to develop listening forums where everyone within their organizational unit is sharing new ideas, celebrating minor successes and learning from small failures. This increases the synergy between employees, builds and solidifies team bonds, and enhances overall organizational cohesiveness.

Appreciating Failure

As aforementioned, an organization’s response to change as it transforms itself implies countless new ideas and concepts are being experimented with on a regular basis. Leaders know that constant experimentation means that they must test concepts, ideas and strategies rapidly—fail or succeed fast—and adjust quickly.

Active leaders must immediately discard bad ideas and learn from their failures. However, no idea can be deemed good or bad unless it has been adequately tested. The key is to learn from the failures and quickly move on to the next idea, building knowledge and expertise from a continual string of ineffective results, failures and shortcomings.

Taking Action

Leaders in the fast pace of change must be proactive rather than reactive. They cannot let the organizational bureaucracy interfere with the progress of their organizational unit. At times they must actively work against this bureaucracy when it regulates or inhibits the testing and experimentation of new ideas and concepts.

Effective leaders do not only involve their frontline employees in concept, idea and method experimentation, they encourage the participation of multi-functional teams as well, and work to get them fully involved in the process.

Learning from Customers

Leaders have learned that the external influence of the customer is a stabilizing factor in the midst of change.

Successful leaders interact with their customers, and encourage employees at all levels to do the same. This can be accomplished through scheduled customer visits to the organization for discussions, observations and feedback, and by sending representatives out to the customer’s business. Once there, their job is to objectively observe exactly how specific products and services are being used and applied. They also interpret what problems occur and why, as well as each one’s impact on various time factors.

This allows leaders to cross-pollinate ideas and concepts throughout the organization so that all involved have mutual goals and objectives, increasing the overall quality of the product and its value to the customer.

Additionally, employee exposure to their customers makes daily tasks and assignments more tangible. Employees are able to see how the product they produce is used. This increases empowerment and overall responsibility toward the customer.

Making It Fun

The concept of change and accompanying process of organizational transformation are stressful. Most leaders have learned that they can ease stress by making certain elements of the process “fun.” This is not to say that leaders create a jovial and joking atmosphere, but that there is pleasure and enjoyment in accomplishing something together as a team and sharing interesting failures and mistakes in a non-critical atmosphere. It means keeping things light, celebrating the little successes, and using them to build on others to the accomplishment of mutual goals and objectives.

Change will throw many curves at an organization. It takes large doses of flexibility and participation to adapt to these trials. It also helps if leaders and employees lighten up at times where stress is at its highest, which helps to reduce the urge to take things far too seriously.

Excerpt: The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about how to personally manage change and its effects, refer to The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

November 17, 2011 at 10:59 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

The Sheer Power of a Leader’s Personal Determination

with 27 comments

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.

7 Ways to Use Change to Increase Performance

with 5 comments

The impact of change can often seem overwhelming to leaders, as most problems associated with it require the complete cooperation and participation of employees. This is especially true of problems occurring during the incremental phases comprising major changes, requiring countless decisions before effective solutions and methods can be implemented.

A single event or person does not control change. Change is often brought about by a series of internal and external forces that impact all within the organization. The forces that bring about change are too dynamic for any single individual to oversee and direct. Consequently, for change to be managed and controlled effectively, the willing participation and input of an organization’s entire workforce must be harnessed.

Change demands that all employees become actively involved, not only in the process of change itself, but also in the many decisions that change requires if a successful transformation is to occur.

Decision-making and leadership is a dynamic process in the face of change. Rather than passively dealing with change, leaders must become proactive in their decision-making, using the dynamics of change to increase performance and improve overall results.

The elements that enhance overall decision-making in a dynamic atmosphere include:

Freely Empowered Employees

There is no set formula or pattern for implementing or dealing with change. As an organization transforms itself, change is implemented by countless daily decisions made at all levels of the organization, which are solely guided by the leader’s vision. Unless employees, teams and workgroups are freely and fully empowered to make these decisions, a centralized decision making process remains in effect. This only works to hamper the organization’s ability to readily adapt to change. Centralized decision making quickly bogs leaders down, greatly reducing their effectiveness and motivation.

Leaders must ensure their employees are free to make operational decisions on issues impacting their jobs and performance. Even reluctant employees will be swept into the waves of change, compelling them to be full, active participants in the process, regardless of their feelings or apprehensions.

Free-Flow of Information

The facilitation of effective decision-making demands an open exchange of information. In the past, managers controlled information as a means of holding power and influence. In the face of change and transformation, all parties must be free to share all useful information and data so that more informed and lower-risk decisions can be consistently and expediently made.

A free-flow of information is not channeled into a single direction. It demands progression openly and in all directions, so that all parties are fully informed regarding the progress and impact of change at any given point in time. This gives the organization the ability to react quickly, and also allows it to readily adapt to changes on a needed basis.

Open Communication

Leaders must facilitate open channels of communication. Open communication encourages otherwise reluctant employees to report bad news or poor results free of fear of retaliation or punishment. If change is to be effectively managed, employees must feel free to openly communicate their feelings, observations, criticisms and findings with confidence that what they have to say will be fully respected and considered.

Encourage Experimentation

Change incorporates countless new ideas and concepts. Employees must be encouraged to take risks and try new methods and experiments. Not every idea will be successful or even feasible. Because of the pioneering nature of change, it is imperative employees understand they will be awarded the necessary freedom to experiment and tinker with new ideas, trial-and-error methods and creative concepts in order to isolate what works does and does not work.

The fact that many ideas might fail should be emphasized to help reduce frustration levels. In the midst of change transformation, failure is not as important as the lessons gained from it. Employees need to be encouraged to share their findings with others in the organization. The key is to test quickly and frequently in order to move the organization forward as expeditiously as possible.

Frequent Assessment

Leaders should hold frequent meetings with their employees to assess the progress of change within the organization. Their primary purpose is to share information and results based on the successes and failures of various ideas, trials and approaches.

Meetings should be used as a tool to tap the power of the group and provide realistic feedback and suggestions from astute observations. A successful meeting generates multiple employee perspectives and insights in order to disclose and detail what is working or not working within the organization.

Drive Down Decision Making

Leaders must drive decision making down deep within their organization. They must allow employees, teams and workgroups to make the daily tactical and operational decisions directly affecting their individual jobs.

Allowing members of the organization to generate decisions and solutions does not mean the leader shuns the responsibility of remaining actively involved in their decision making process. Rather, the decisions are guided by the leader’s vision and direction, and many will necessitate his or her input. However, to get the most out of their employees on a consistent basis, leaders empower them to make group and individual decisions having a direct impact upon their individual performance.

Close the Decision Making Loop

Leaders must ensure all decision-making loops are closed by closely monitoring the results of the collective decisions of their employees, teams and workgroups. Leaders must then share these findings with their employees so they can make any necessary adjustments, improvements or modifications based upon their feedback. Readjustment and the quest for improvement will naturally channel the process back to the starting point of the free-flow of information.

Excerpt: Facilitating Change: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 17.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about techniques to facilitate change, refer to Facilitating Change: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

What Does Luck Have to Do With It?

with 4 comments

Andrew Carnegie

It is often easy to attribute the success of great and influential leaders to pure luck. Undoubtedly, some turned out to be the right person in the right place at the right time. However, they also had to have the right skills and abilities to build on the opportunities presented to them.

“[Andrew] Carnegie (Carnegie Steel) was well aware that his success was in large part the result of being in the right place at the right time. Obviously, he had business and personal skills to help carry him, but Carnegie was introduced to the right industry (telegraph), where he met the right businessmen, who then introduced him to investing and the steel industry. And this just wasn’t the steel industry that we see today. It was the steel industry in the times of America’s expansion west. Hundreds of thousands of railroad miles, a majority made from Carnegie steel.” [1]

P.T. Barnum (Ringling Brothers & Barnum Circus) noted, “There is no such thing in the world as luck. There never was a man who could go out in the morning and find a purse full of gold in the street today, and another tomorrow, and so on, day after day: He may do so once in his life; but so far as mere luck is concerned, he is as liable to lose it as to find it. ‘Like causes produce like effects.’ If a man adopts the proper methods to be successful, ‘luck’ will not prevent him. If he does not succeed, there are reasons for it, although, perhaps, he may not be able to see them.” [2]

While luck and happenstance do play varying roles, success is more attributable to creativity, hard work, foresight and preparation. Take the example of James J. Hill (Great Northern Railway) where “part of the notable accomplishment of Hill and his associates lay in simple luck… But more important were Hill’s talents: his remarkable mastery over every detail of what was now a far-flung operation, his vision of the inevitable triumph of transcontinental through-carriers, his insufferable iron will and work ethic, and his recruitment of an able coterie of men…” [3]

Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) observed, Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.’ Despite all his hard work, Kroc was not always a lucky man. From his early days in starting up McDonald’s to even after the chain was a well-established global presence, Kroc experienced his fair share of failures. He was not immune to disappointment; what set Kroc apart from his competitors, however, was how he learned from his failures and bounced back.” [4]

For Milton Hershey (Hershey Foods), success was not simply a matter of luck. Having learned from his past failures, he had become a shrewd and astute businessman.” [5]

The skills and characteristics the great and influential leaders employed enabled them to identify and maximize the opportunities that presented themselves. These individuals may have been lucky in being at the right place at the right time, but far more was required to capitalize upon available opportunities, which were presented to them. Many others at the same time were presented with similar opportunities. Yet they failed to achieve similar levels of success. This was because they didn’t possess the same skills, competencies and knowledge to understand what was needed to grasp the significance of the opportunities, and the actions and practices to maximize them.

[1]  Begley Jonathan, Book Review: Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw (http://jonathanbegley.wordpress.com, January 5, 2010)

[2]  Barnum P.T., Money Getting or Golden Rules for Making Money (Self-Published)

[3]  Michael P. Malone, James J. Hill – Empire Builder of the Northwest (University of Oklahoma Press – Norman 1996) p. 150

[4]  Use Failure as a Catalyst for Success (greatmanagement.org, February 12, 2009)

[5]  Milton S. Hershey (www.ideafinder.com)

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 role of luck and happenstance in the lives  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

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

August 23, 2011 at 10:01 am

The Productive Response to Failure

with 6 comments

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

%d bloggers like this: