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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘organizational culture

‘Performance’ is More Than the ‘Bottom Line’

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Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939) was the president of both the Carnegie Steel Corporation and Bethlehem Steel. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939) was the president of both the Carnegie Steel Corporation and Bethlehem Steel. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel) observed; “Put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket,” when he answered the question of how he became so successful, he obviously gave a simple response to a complex question. However, his answer simply places a focus on the entirety of his plans and goals, from one who mastered the art of execution and used it to his competitive advantage.

When individuals are elected to run a corporation, most often the only major thing that is taken into account, is whether or not they have the talent to get things done and to deliver on their commitments. When it comes down to it, nothing else matters.

Peter Drucker in his commentary about Alfred Sloan (General Motors) wrote, “The job of a professional manager is not to like people. It is not to change people. It is to put their strengths to work. And whether one approves of people or of the way they do their work, their performance is the only thing that counts, and indeed is the only thing that the professional manager is permitted to pay attention to. I once said to Sloan that I had rarely seen more different people than the two men who during my study had run the most profitable divisions of GM, Chevrolet and Cadillac. ‘You are quite mistaken,’ he said.‘These two men were very much alike – both performed.’ – But ‘performance’ is more than the ‘bottom line.’ It is also setting an example and being a mentor. And this requires integrity.” [1]

The great leaders were known for their talent to execute well. Henry Kaiser (Kaiser) exemplified this ability when he ramped up production of his Liberty Ships during the Second World War. So did James Burke (Johnson & Johnson), when faced with the Tylenol crisis in the 1980s.

Colin Powell (U.S. Army) observed, “‘The most important assets you have in all of this are the people, and if you don’t put people at the center of your process, you’ll fail. Not profit motives, not size of the organization’s headquarters, but people.’

What differentiates successful companies from unsuccessful companies is rarely the brilliant, secret, take-the-market-by storm grand plan. Indeed, the leaders of today’s great companies are inclined to freely share their plans and business models in books and magazines. Even if they weren’t, today’s fast-moving economy dictates that most organizations’ plans are on their way to obsolescence almost from the moment that they are publicly revealed.

The key to success, therefore, lies in exceptional, innovative, fast execution. Execution lies, in turn, in the capacity of people to quickly capitalize on fleeting opportunities in the marketplace; develop imaginative ideas and creative responses; generate fast, constantly changing action plans; mobilize teams and resources; get the job done swiftly an effectively—and then continue that process with relentless commitment.

That’s what this ‘people’ thing is all about, because it’s people that make all that happen. What effective leaders do is create an environment in which great people can flourish in optimal pursuit of the enterprise’s mission. In describing the famed symphony conductor Leonard Bernstein, one observer noted that ‘what Bernstein achieved—and what great leaders achieve—is a seeming paradox. He convinced his players they were free to innovate and express themselves, while convincing them to accept his vision for the music and to follow his direction.’ That description nicely captures the spirit of the leader role that Powell endorses.” [2]

As has been previously noted, Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines), Fred Smith (FedEx), along with numerous other cited examples, all built successful organizations around their employees.

Howard Schultz (Starbucks) knows not only the value of his employees and their contributions, but also knows how to extract the best from them. “Howard asks questions and will challenge you to perform. He’ll push you to go gather the data.

He’ll tell you what he would do to try and solve a problem, but he’s not always going to hand you the answer.” [3]
While at Carnegie Steel, where he supervised all of the plant supervisors for Andrew Carnegie, Charles Schwab rose from laborer to the executive ranks through his uncanny talent to execute.

“Schwab was not an originator, he was a builder of integrated teams. His particular genius was in handling people…” [4] Schwab often recalled a story, which demonstrates his talent to execute. He said,

“I had a mill manager who was finely educated, thoroughly capable and master of every detail of the business. But he seemed unable to inspire his men to do their best.

‘How is it that a man as able as you,’ I asked him one day, ‘cannot make this mill turn out what it should?’

‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I have coaxed the men; I have pushed them, I have sworn at them. I have done everything in my power. Yet they will not produce.’

It was near the end of the day; in a few minutes the night force would come on duty. I turned to a workman who was standing beside one of the red-mouthed furnaces and asked him for a piece of chalk.

‘How many heats has your shift made today?’ I queried.

‘Six,’ he replied.

I chalked a big ‘6’ on the floor, and then passed along without another word. When the night shift came in they saw the ‘6’ and asked about it.

‘The big boss was in here today,’ said the day men. ‘He asked us how many heats we had made, and we told him six. He chalked it down.’

The next morning I passed through the same mill. I saw that the ‘6’ had been rubbed out and a big ‘7’ writteninstead. The night shift had announced itself.

That night I went back. The ‘7’ had been erased, and a ‘10’ swaggered in its place. The day force recognized no superiors.

Thus a fine competition was started, and it went on until this mill, formerly the poorest producer, was turning out more than any other mill in the plant.” [5]

Related:

  1. Do You Have a Zeal to Execute?
  2. Do You Have Faith in Your People?
  3. Do You Have the Fortitude and Resolve to Continue?
  4. Should Profit Be the Only Measure of Success?

References:

  1. Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)
  2. Harari Oren, Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (McGraw Hill, New York 2002) p.128
  3. Meyers William, Conscience in a Cup of Coffee (U.S. News, October 31, 2005)
  4. “Steel Titan: The Life of Charles M. Schwab” by Robert Hessen and “The Highest Virtue” by Alan Stang (Freeman, February 1976)
  5. Schwab Charles M., Succeeding with What You Have (Century Company, New York 1917) p. 39-41

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

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Six Critical Skills You Need to Be Really Comfortable With

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The complexion of business and the workplace are continually changing. The skills required of leaders in the past have become outdated and outmoded by the volatile business environment. Today’s leaders are required to change and adapt or lose their professional edge. There are a number of critical skills that need to be mastered in order for leaders to remain a relevant and viable resource for their company.

Most leaders would like to maintain the status quo. It is easy to be resistant to change. In fact, many are doing just that, hoping that conditions will revert to the way they were in the past. Unfortunately, this wishful and myopic thinking produces numerous adverse consequences.

The dynamic impact of change is a reality that each leader must fully comprehend and come to terms with. This demands that thinking and attitudes continually evolve with increasing ongoing transformations in the global marketplace. New skills are required for leaders to integrate these changes into their business environment and adapt to new ones not far behind.

A number of skills must be developed in order to enhance personal and professional development. None of these skills are independent of a leader’s job performance, but are in fact strongly linked to it. These include the ability to:

Related: Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

Think ‘Outside the Box’

Most leaders’ personal thinking is shaped by the events and circumstances they have previously experienced. Over time, thinking patterns tend to become solely focused on the activities of the company and upon issues and situations related to the effectiveness of their employees. Because of this, reasoning and perceptions often become clouded and stagnant. Many times they include a bias and perspective that does not reflect reality.

Change and its forces really do demand that leaders get outside of their normal way of viewing things to develop a fresh perspective of both their company and the reality of the existing business environment. This often results in a thinking paradigm shift that positively impacts future business practices and methods. It compels leaders to recognize the changing reality of their own business climate, its needs and concerns, and how emerging forces are producing a positive or negative impact on how the business functions. It also works to develop a fresh focus on what is needed to compete effectively, grow and gain market share.

Related: Formulating Questions as a Source of Continuous Improvement

Change the Culture

Linked with this thinking paradigm shift is a need for effecting a change in the corporate culture. This is necessitated by the various factors brought about by a continuously evolving marketplace. Leaders often have difficulty dealing with the concept of changing the culture around them. This stems mostly from fear of the personal consequences that accompanies corporate transformation and because most of the changes tend to challenge conventional wisdom.

Most leaders don’t understand exactly what is required to evolve as truly effective leaders or how to go about it. New methods and ideas conflict with their current managerial roles. They feel at risk because their comfort zones are threatened and new skills in leadership are often lacking. Many worry they will not be able to fill their newer role adequately enough to produce the results the culture change demands.

Related: Success Is the Sum of Details

Monitoring the Pulse of the Business

A leader’s professional development demands that they delegate more daily activities and responsibilities to selected employees. While this pushes decision making down to the front lines—where it has the most impact—it does not mean that leaders should not be continually aware of what is happening in regard to each delegated employee. Rather, they should use some form of metrics system to keep a daily pulse on what is occurring in the workplace. Though they need to delegate their micromanagement activities, there still is the essential need to maintain an active and open presence with their employees or work teams. This allows them to individually and proactively interact whenever required.

Related: Do You Have a Zeal to Execute?

Act Quickly

As leaders formulate their particular leadership style, they must incorporate the ability to act quickly and decisively. In a business environment of rapid change, hesitancy is a liability, especially in the current workplace environment where failure to act can easily create an opportunity for the competition to gain a foothold.

Keep it Simple

While many leaders are prone to the misconception that the more sophisticated and complicated the plan, the better it is, a good leader understands the need to keep things simple and to stress execution.

Though outwardly impressive, complicated plans and solutions demand complex and costly systems to support them, are prone to human error, and increase the risk of failure. Straightforward and simple plans and goals are less expensive, less subject to human error and far easier to execute.

Related: Do You Believe in Yourself?

Develop Self-Confidence

Leaders who desire to develop their professional skills must cultivate an innate sense of confidence in their decisions. Many stumble into the pitfall of always second-guessing themselves. This results in hesitancy and a loss of self-confidence in their professional abilities. It is a far more desirable leadership trait to act quickly and decisively, then modify the decision as additional data and results become available, than it is to wait until extenuating circumstances develop due to indecision. Inaction only gives rise to additional problems that will also need to be addressed and surmounted.

Excerpt: Becoming a Leader of Your Own Making: Pinpoint Management 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 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

Do You Have the Talent to Execute & Get Things Done?

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Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel) observed; “Put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket,” when he answered the question of how he became so successful, he obviously gave a simple response to a complex question. However, his answer simply places a focus on the entirety of his plans and goals, from one who mastered the art of execution and used it to his competitive advantage.

When individuals are elected to run a corporation, most often the only major thing that is taken into account, is whether or not they have the talent to get things done and to deliver on their commitments. When it comes down to it, nothing else matters.

Alfred Sloan

Peter Drucker in his commentary about Alfred Sloan (General Motors) wrote, “The job of a professional manager is not to like people. It is not to change people. It is to put their strengths to work. And whether one approves of people or of the way they do their work, their performance is the only thing that counts, and indeed is the only thing that the professional manager is permitted to pay attention to. I once said to Sloan that I had rarely seen more different people than the two men who during my study had run the most profitable divisions of GM, Chevrolet and Cadillac. ‘You are quite mistaken,’ he said. ‘These two men were very much alike – both performed.’ – But ‘performance’ is more than the ‘bottom line.’ It is also setting an example and being a mentor. And this requires integrity.” [1]

The great leaders were known for their talent to execute well. Henry Kaiser (Kaiser) exemplified this ability when he ramped up production of his Liberty Ships during the Second World War. So did James Burke (Johnson & Johnson), when faced with the Tylenol crisis in the 1980s. Colin Powell (U.S. Army) observed, “‘The most important assets you have in all of this are the people, and if you don’t put people at the center of your process, you’ll fail. Not profit motives, not size of the organization’s headquarters, but people.’ What differentiates successful companies from unsuccessful companies is rarely the brilliant, secret, take-the-market-by storm grand plan. Indeed, the leaders of today’s great companies are inclined to freely share their plans and business models in books and magazines. Even if they weren’t, today’s fast-moving economy dictates that most organizations’ plans are on their way to obsolescence almost from the moment that they are publicly revealed.

The key to success, therefore, lies in exceptional, innovative, fast execution. Execution lies, in turn, in the capacity of people to quickly capitalize on fleeting opportunities in the marketplace; develop imaginative ideas and creative responses; generate fast, constantly changing action plans; mobilize teams and resources; get the job done swiftly an effectively—and then continue that process with relentless commitment. That’s what this ‘people’ thing is all about, because it’s people that make all that happen. What effective leaders do is create an environment in which great people can flourish in optimal pursuit of the enterprise’s mission. In describing the famed symphony conductor Leonard Bernstein, one observer noted that ‘what Bernstein achieved—and what great leaders achieve—is a seeming paradox. He convinced his players they were free to innovate and express themselves, while convincing them to accept his vision for the music and to follow his direction.’ That description nicely captures the spirit of the leader role that Powell endorses.” [2]

As has been previously noted, Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines), Fred Smith (FedEx), along with numerous other cited examples, all built successful organizations around their employees. Howard Schultz (Starbucks) knows not only the value of his employees and their contributions, but also knows how to extract the best from them. “Howard asks questions and will challenge you to perform. He’ll push you to go gather the data. He’ll tell you what he would do to try and solve a problem, but he’s not always going to hand you the answer.” [3]

Charles Schwab

While at Carnegie Steel, where he supervised all of the plant supervisors for Andrew Carnegie, Charles Schwab rose from laborer to the executive ranks through his uncanny talent to execute. “Schwab was not an originator, he was a builder of integrated teams. His particular genius was in handling people…” [4] Schwab often recalled a story, which demonstrates his talent to execute. He said, “I had a mill manager who was finely educated, thoroughly capable and master of every detail of the business. But he seemed unable to inspire his men to do their best.

‘How is it that a man as able as you,’ I asked him one day, ‘cannot make this mill turn out what it should?’

‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I have coaxed the men; I have pushed them, I have sworn at them. I have done everything in my power. Yet they will not produce.’

It was near the end of the day; in a few minutes the night force would come on duty. I turned to a workman who was standing beside one of the red-mouthed furnaces and asked him for a piece of chalk.

‘How many heats has your shift made today?’ I queried.

‘Six,’ he replied.

I chalked a big ‘6’ on the floor, and then passed along without another word. When the night shift came in they saw the ‘6’ and asked about it.

‘The big boss was in here today,’ said the day men. ‘He asked us how many heats we had made, and we told him six. He chalked it down.’

The next morning I passed through the same mill. I saw that the ‘6’ had been rubbed out and a big ‘7’ written instead. The night shift had announced itself. That night I went back. The ‘7’ had been erased, and a ‘10’ swaggered in its place. The day force recognized no superiors. Thus a fine competition was started, and it went on until this mill, formerly the poorest producer, was turning out more than any other mill in the plant.” [5]

[1] Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)

[2] Harari Oren, Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (McGraw Hill, New York 2002) p.128

[3] Meyers William, Conscience in a Cup of Coffee (U.S. News, October 31, 2005)

[4] “Steel Titan: The Life of Charles M. Schwab” by Robert Hessen and “The Highest Virtue” by Alan Stang (Freeman, February 1976)

[5] Schwab Charles M., Succeeding with What You Have (Century Company, New York 1917) p. 39-41

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 talent to execute 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

Where Did Our Values Originate From?

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Many of the values that define a leader originate from military codes of honor. These were rooted in medieval codes of chivalry. However. The one individual who had the most influence in the creation of values that define American leaders is Benjamin Franklin.

According to Wikipedia: “Franklin is credited as being foundational to the roots of American values and character, a marriage of the practical and democratic Puritan values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. In the words of Henry Steele Commager, “In Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat.” To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin, “the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.”

These values are still evident within our society and are reflected in the values that leaders are expected to espouse. However there is a noticeable deterioration of these values over time and these could be responsible for many of the leadership problems observed today, either by imbalance or by corruption of this value system.

If you would like to learn more about the great American leader’s beliefs and values, 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 © 2009 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

It’s the Little Things that Count

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Leaders are walking testimonies of their beliefs, values and philosophies. It’s not the broad pronouncements, but the little things that count… the platoon leader who allows his soldiers of the pick of the rations before picking his, usually the least desirable meal… the entrepreneur that bets the farm and sticks to it, when things get tough, rather than close the business… the manager who gets his hands dirty fixing a critical piece of equipment so the production line doesn’t shut down… the CEO who goes out with his or her sales people to keep in touch with the customer.

There are so many things that employees, stakeholders and constituents observe that deserve praise or develop distain. A leader’s actions are transparent. People notice if they are self-serving or servants. The best have a servant mentality that tends to be modeled throughout the organization culture.

The self-serving leader telegraphs another message: “Every man for himself.” Employees know that when the going get tough, the self-serving leader is out the door. How often do we see the actions of the self-serving leader displayed in Corporate America?

In the real world words have meaning and actions have consequences. Often it is what is not seen or is seen behind doors is what builds trust, loyalty and credibility. What a leader does when no one is looking defines his or her character. Just because its seemingly hidden, doesn’t mean no one is looking.

If you would like to learn more about the great American leader’s servant attitudes, 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 © 2009 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

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