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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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‘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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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

How Would Contemporary Leaders Be Viewed Back Then?

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If it would be possible to travel in time, how would our contemporary leaders be viewed by our Founding Fathers?

The Founding Fathers would be displayed to find the overall deterioration of values they highly prized. However, they would not be surprised, since they observed these values displayed by the aristocrats of the European courts and warned that their introduction would lead to the destruction of the country as they envisioned it.

Our contemporary leaders would not have been allowed to rise to positions of power. The lone exception would be the positions that were obtained through inheritance and wealth. Yet these individuals were viewed as suspect.

Many of the self-serving actions of leaders that led to the destruction of companies and cultures would have led to personal ruin and disgrace, while tolerated, if not hailed today.

The question is why have we as a society allowed the deterioration of values and allowed self-serving leaders to destroy our society and personal security?

Before we can understand how to restore real leadership, we need to understand the answers to this question.

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

Has Leadership Changed or Evolved Over Time?

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My examination of the leadership characteristics of prominent leaders over all periods of American history initially shows that they differ from one period to another.

For instance if you compare the characteristics of the Founding Fathers versus leaders of today, you will discover that while both share common characteristics, the Founding Fathers have a set of unique characteristics that are not demonstrated by today’s leaders.

Characteristics such as virtue, valor, patriotism, and resolve had real meanings in the context of the times, while today, they tend to be meaningless and antiquated terms, only seen on monuments or in contemporary correspondence. They had real meaning to these leaders and were highly valued.

Personal vision for the Founding Fathers was something that allowed them to endure long years of adversity and keep them focused on the ultimate goal; the founding of the Republic.

Another term is beloved. Can you imagine a leader called beloved, yet George Washington was. His officer corps wanted to crown him king. The states only ratified the Constitution on the premise that Washington would be president. He was the only president to receive 100% of the electoral vote. He was truly beloved as a leader by the citizens of the United States.

As one reviews the leadership characteristics over time, a clear deterioration of values is evident to the point that many or non-existent in contemporary leaders. This may be one reason for the lack of leadership that is on display in many sectors of our society.

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

The Value of Sacrifice

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Whether effective or ineffective, individuals viewed as leaders are models of behavior that are closely observed and judged by others. Inherent expectations of leaders include personal sacrifice. They are expected to sacrifice for the benefit of others within their organizations. Leaders who expect sacrifice from their employees, stakeholders or constituencies and yet refuse to make the same personal sacrifices are judged as hypocrites.

Nothing undermines organizational leaders more than an attitude of “do as I say, not do as I do.” This is clearly demonstrated during the current recession when jobs are cut, wages frozen and budgets slashed. As individuals suffer from the consequences of these actions, they become enraged at the excesses displayed by their so-called leaders who collect large bonuses and spend monies for parties and expensive trips and dinners. There is no sacrifice displayed, while others have to pinch their belts. This destroys credibility and undermines trust.

When leaders demonstrate a posture of shared sacrifice, a term I don’t like to use due to its political and progressive definitions, this builds loyalty and trust that can be built on when its needed to rebuild the business.

Leaders need to model sacrifice within their organizations if they expect their employees to sacrifice during difficult times.

Sadly, too many high profile leaders ignore this. However, many others do, so I can’t make a broad accusation. Yet this is one of the reasons for the demise of leadership and its failure. Too many leaders take care of themselves, while ignoring the needs of those they are tasked to lead.

If you would like to learn more about the great American leader’s personal sacrifice, 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

What is Leadership?

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From my position as I’ve begun to examine the failure of current leadership theory and practices as they apply to organizations, the terms leaders and leadership are often over used and misapplied labels. Individuals labeled as leaders are often not leaders, but people with personal agendas who pursue them over the goals of the organization or constituency they serve. Many of them bailed out last year, when their organizations crashed down around them, looking out for themselves and their personal welfare, while leaving their employees and company left to fend for themselves.

Secondly, leadership as it is taught and practiced is a mishmash of concepts, theories, and characteristics. Often what is management theory is presented as leadership theory. Many of the leadership books I’ve reviewed are a rehash of the same old thinking. Many are masked as “secrets of leadership.” This is pure nonsense as there are no secrets.

As I examine the leadership characteristics of successful individuals who have been considered leaders, this web can be untangled and understood. From viewed from the practical application, it becomes clear what comprises leadership at various levels. This includes intuitive characteristics, management and leadership skills and successful practices.

Additionally, leadership can be broken into both strategic and tactical leadership. No all leaders are destined to be Generals, CEO’s or the President of the United States. There are many effective leaders, who are sergeants directing their soldiers in combat, managers successfully directing a department or division or individuals serving on the local school board. They are effective at the level they are at.

The strategic leader may be someone like Jack Walsh at GE, Colin Powell or Richard Branson, who are responsible for the direction and management of a large organization. They’ve learned to develop the tactical leaders under their direction to achieve their organizational goals. They demand excellence, responsibility and accountability. They also focus on execution and the successful implementation of their plans. They build trust, develop confidence and inspire others through personal example.

As I continue my research my definition of what leadership is and the elements that constitute it is a moving target. What I am sure of is that what is currently defined as leadership today is flawed and doesn’t fit the bill.

If you would like to learn more about the leadership 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 © 2009 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

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