FINDING THE LEADER IN YOU
Charles Schwab was paid a salary of a million dollars a year in the steel business, and he told me that he was paid this huge salary largely because of his ability to handle people. Imagine that! A million dollars a year because he was able to handle people! One day at noontime, Schwab was walking through one of his steel mills when he came across a group of men smoking directly under a sign that said No Smoking.
Do you suppose that Charles Schwab pointed at the sign and said, "Can't you read?"
Absolutely not, not that master of human relations.
Mr. Schwab chatted with the men in a friendly way and never said a word about the fact that they were smoking under a No Smoking sign.
Finally he handed them some cigars and said with a twinkle in his eye, "I'd appreciate it, boys, if you'd smoke these outside."
That is all he said. Those men knew that he knew that they had broken a rule, and they admired him because he hadn't called them down. He had been such a good sport with them that they in turn wanted to be good sports with him.
Fred Wilpon is the president of the New York Mets baseball team. One afternoon Wilpon was leading a group of school children on a tour of Shea Stadium. He let them stand behind home plate. He took them into the team dugouts. He walked them through the private passage to the clubhouse. As the final stop on his tour, Wilpon wanted to take the students into the stadium bull pen, where the pitchers warm up.
But right outside the bull pen gate, the group was stopped by a uniformed security guard.
"The bull pen isn't open to the public," the guard told Wilpon, obviously unaware of who he was. "I'm sorry, but you can't go out there."
Now, Fred Wilpon certainly had the power to get what he wanted right then and there. He could have berated the poor security guard for failing to recognize such an important person as himself. With a dramatic flourish, Wilpon could have whipped out his top-level security pass and shown the wide-eyed children how much weight he carried at Shea.
Wilpon did none of that. He led the students to the far side of the stadium and took them into the bull pen through another gate.
Why did he bother to do that? Wilpon didn't want to embarrass the security guard. The man, after all, was doing his job and doing it well. Later that afternoon Wilpon even sent off a handwritten note, thanking the guard for showing such concern.
Had Wilpon chosen instead to yell or cause a scene, the guard might well have ended up feeling resentful, and no doubt his work would have suffered as a result. Wilpon's gentle approach made infinitely more sense. The guard felt great about the compliment. And you can bet he'll recognize Wilpon the next time the two of them happen to meet.
Fred Wilpon is a leader and not just because of the title he holds or the salary he earns. What makes him a leader of men and women is how he has learned to interact.
In the past people in the business world didn't give much thought to the true meaning of leadership. The boss was the boss, and he was in charge. Period. End of discussion.
Well-run companies -- no one ever spoke about "well-led companies" -- were the ones that operated in almost military style. Orders were delivered from above and passed down through the ranks.
Remember Mr. Dithers from the Blondie comic strip? "BUM-STEAD!" he would scream, and young Dagwood would come rushing into the boss's office like a frightened puppy. Lots of real-life companies operated that way for years. The companies that weren't run like army platoons were barely run at all. They just puttered along as they always had, secure in some little niche of a market that hadn't been challenged for years. The message from above was always, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"
The people who had responsibility sat in their offices and managed what they could. That's what they were expected to do -- to "manage." Maybe they steered the organizations a few degrees to the left or a few degrees to the right. Usually they tried to deal with whatever obvious problems presented themselves, and then they called it a day.
Back when the world was a simpler place, management like this was fine. Rarely visionary, but fine, as life rolled predictably along.
But mere management simply isn't enough anymore. The world is too unpredictable, too volatile, too fast-moving for such an uninspired approach. What's needed now is something much deeper than old-fashioned business management. What's needed is leadership, to help people achieve what they are capable of, to establish a vision for the future, to encourage, to coach and to mentor, and to establish and maintain successful relationships.
"Back when business operated in a more stable environment, management skills were sufficient," says Harvard business school professor John Quelch. "But when the business environment becomes volatile, when the waters are uncharted, when your mission requires greater flexibility than you ever imagined it would -- that's when leadership skills become critical."
"The change is already taking place, and I'm not sure all organizations are ready for it," says Bill Makahilahila, Director of Human Resources at SGS-Thomson Microelectronics, Inc., a leading semiconductor manufacturer. "The position called 'manager' may not exist too much longer, and the concept of 'leadership' will be redefined. Companies today are going through that struggle. They are realizing, as they begin to downsize their operations and reach for greater productivity, that facilitative skills are going to be primary. Good communication, interpersonal skills, the ability to coach, model, and build teams -- all of that requires more and better leaders.
"You can't do it by directive anymore. It has to be by influence. It takes real 'people skills.'"
Many people still have a narrow understanding of what leadership really is. You say, "leader" and they think general, president, prime minister, or chairman of the board. Obviously, people in those exalted positions are expected to lead, an expectation they meet with varying levels of success. But the fact of the matter is that leadership does not begin and end at the very top. It is every bit as important, perhaps more important, in the places most of us live and work.
Organizing a small work team, energizing an office support staff, keeping things happy at home -- those are the front lines of leadership. Leadership is never easy. But thankfully, something else is also true: Every one of us has the potential to be a leader every day.
The team facilitator, the middle manager, the account executive, the customer-service operator, the person who works in the mail room -- just about anyone who ever comes in contact with others has good reason to learn how to lead.
To an enormous degree their leadership skills will determine how much success they achieve and how happy they will be. Not just at work, either. Families, charity groups, sports teams, civic associations, social clubs, you name it -- every one of those organizations has a tremendous need for dynamic leadership.
Steven Jobs and Steven Wozniak were a couple of blue-jeans-wearing kids from California, ages twenty-one and twenty-six. They weren't rich, they had absolutely no business training, and they were hoping to get started in an industry that barely existed at the time.
The year was 1976, before most people ever thought about buying computers for their homes. In those days the entire home-computer business added up to just a few brainy hobbyists, the original "computer nerds." So when Jobs and Wozniak scraped together thirteen hundred dollars by selling a van and two calculators and opened Apple Computer, Inc., in Job's garage, the odds against their smashing success seemed awfully long.
But these two young entrepreneurs had a vision, a clear idea of what they believed they could achieve. "Computers aren't just for nerds anymore," they announced. "Computers are going to be the bicycle of the mind. Low-cost computers are for everyone."
From day one the Apple founders kept their vision intact, and they communicated it at every turn. They hired people who understood the vision and let them share in its rewards. They lived and breathed and talked the vision. Even when the company got stalled -- when the retailers said no thank you, when the manufacturing people said no way, when the bankers said no more -- Apple's visionary leaders never backed down.
Eventually the world came around. Six years after Apple's founding, the company was selling 650,000 personal computers a year. Wozniak and Jobs were dynamic personal leaders, years ahead of their time.
It's not just new organizations, however, that need visionary leadership. In the early 1980s, Corning, Incorporated, was caught in a terrible squeeze. The Corning name still meant something in kitchenware, but that name was being seriously undermined. The company's manufacturing technology was outmoded. Its market share was down. Corning customers were defecting by the thousands to foreign firms. And the company's stodgy management didn't seem to have a clue.
That's when Chairman James R. Houghton concluded that Corning needed a whole new vision, and he proposed one. Recalls Houghton: "We had an outside consultant who was working with me and my new team as our resident shrink. He was really a facilitator, a wonderful guy who kept hammering on the quality issue as something we had to get into.
"We were in one of those terrible group meetings, and everybody was very depressed. I got up and announced that we were going to spend about ten million bucks that we didn't have. We were going to set up our own quality institute. We were going to get going on this.
"There were a lot of different things that put me over the top. But I am fast to admit, I just had a gut feeling that it was right. I had no idea of the implications, none, and how important it would be."
Houghton knew that Corning had to improve the quality of its manufacturing and had to speed up delivery time. What the chairman did was take a risk. He sought advice from the best experts in the world -- his own employees. Not just the manager and the company engineers. Houghton brought in the line employees too. He put a representative team together and told them to redesign Corning's entire manufacturing process -- if that's what it took to bring the company around.
The answer, the team decided after six months of work, was to redesign certain plants to reduce defects on the assembly line and make the machines faster to retool. The teams also reorganized the way Corning kept its inventories to get faster turnaround. The results were astounding. When Houghton launched these changes, irregularities in a new fiber-optics coating process were running eight hundred parts per million. Four years later that measure fell to zero. In two more years delivery time was cut from weeks to days, and in the space of four years Corning's return on equity nearly doubled. Houghton's vision had literally turned the company around.
Business theorists Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus have studied hundreds of successful organizations, large and small, focusing on the way in which they are led. "A leader," the two men write, "must first have developed a mental image of a possible and desirable future state of the organization. This image, which we call a vision, may be as vague as a dream or as precise as a goal or a mission statement." The critical point, Bennis and Nanus explain, "is that a vision articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization, a condition that is better in some important ways than what now exists."
Leaders ask: Where is this work team heading? What does this division stand for? Who are we trying to serve? How can we improve the quality of our work? The specific answers will be as different as the people being led, as different as the leaders themselves. What's most important is that the questions are asked.
There is no one correct way to lead, and talented leaders come in many personality types. They are loud or quiet, funny or severe, tough or gentle, boisterous or shy. They come from all ages, any race, both sexes, and every kind of group there is.
The idea isn't just to identify the most successful leader you can find and then slavishly model yourself after him or her. That strategy is doomed from the start. You are unlikely ever to rise above a poor imitation of the person you are pretending to be. The leadership techniques that will work best for you are the ones you nurture inside.
Fred Ebb is a Tony Award-winning composer whose hit Broadway shows include Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chicago, and Zorba. Frequently, young songwriters come to Ebb for professional guidance. "I always tell them to follow the advice that Irving Berlin had for George Gershwin," Ebb says.
It seems that when Berlin and Gershwin first met, Berlin was already famous and Gershwin was just a struggling young composer working on Tin Pan Alley for thirty-five dollars a week. Impressed by Gershwin's obvious talent, Berlin offered the young man a job as his musical secretary at almost triple what Gershwin was earning writing songs.
"But don't take the job," Berlin advised. "If you do, you may develop into a second-rate Berlin. But if you insist on being yourself, someday you will become a first-rate Gershwin."
Gershwin stuck with Gershwin, of course, and American popular music reached new heights. "Don't try to imitate others," Ebb tells his proteges. "Never stop being yourself."
Often what this requires is figuring out who you really are and putting that insight thoughtfully to work. This is so important it's worth a bit of quiet reflection. Ask yourself the question in a straightforward way: What personal qualities do I possess that can be turned into the qualities of leadership?
For Robert L. Crandall, one of those qualities is a keen ability to anticipate change. Crandall, the chairman of AMR Corporation, piloted American Airlines through an extremely turbulent era in the air-travel business.
Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton got a big boost from her natural enthusiasm. She leapt out of a small town in West Virginia and landed in the hearts of people everywhere.
In the case of Hugh Downs, the veteran ABC newsman, one of these leadership qualities was his down-to-earth humility. Downs managed to build a huge career for himself in the highly competitive business of broadcasting and still remain a gentleman.
Whatever those qualities are for you -- a dogged persistence, a steel-trap mind, a great imagination, a positive attitude, a strong sense of values -- let them blossom into leadership. And remember that actions are far more powerful than words.
Arthur Ashe was a world-class tennis player and a world-class father -- a true leader in those and other realms. He too believed in leading by example.
"My wife and I talk about this with our six-year-old daughter," Ashe said in an interview just before his death. "Children are much more impressed by what they see you do than by what you say," he said. "Children at that age certainly keep you honest. If you have been preaching one thing all along and all of a sudden you don't do it, they're going to bring it right up in your face.
"I tell her it's not polite to eat with your elbows on the table. Then after dinner I'm putting my elbows up. She says, 'Daddy, your elbows are on the table.' You have to be man enough, or woman enough, to say, 'You're right,' and take your elbows down. In fact, that's an even stronger learning experience than her hearing it. It means that she did listen in the past. She understands it. And she recognizes it when she sees it. But it takes actions, rather than mere words, to accomplish that."
A leader establishes standards and then sticks to them. Douglas A. Warner III, for instance, has always insisted on what he calls "full transparency."
"When you come in to make a proposal to me," says Warner, president of J. P. Morgan & Co., Incorporated, "assume that everything that you just told me appears tomorrow on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Are you going to be proud to have handled this transaction or handled this situation in the way you just recommended, assuming full transparency? If the answer to that is no, then we're going to stop right here and examine what the problem is." That is a mark of leadership.
Well-focused, self-confident leadership like that is what turns a vision into reality. Just ask Mother Teresa. She was a young Catholic nun, teaching high school in an upper-middle-class section of Calcutta. But she kept looking out the window and seeing the lepers on the street. "I saw fear in their eyes," she said. "The fear they would never be loved, the fear they would never get adequate medical attention."
She could not shake that fear out of her mind. She knew she had to leave the security of the convent, go out into the streets, and set up homes of peace for the lepers of India. Over the years to come, Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity have cared for 149,000 people with leprosy, dispensing medical attention and unconditional love.
One December day, after addressing the United Nations, Mother Teresa went to visit a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. While inside she spoke with four inmates who had AIDS. She knew at once that these were the lepers of today.
She got back to New York City on the Monday before Christmas, and she went straight to City Hall to see Mayor Edward Koch. She asked the mayor if he would telephone the governor, Mario Cuomo. "Governor," she said, after Koch handed her the phone, "I'm just back from Sing Sing, and four prisoners there have AIDS. I'd like to open up an AIDS center. Would you mind releasing those four prisoners to me? I'd like them to be the first four in the AIDS center."
"Well, Mother," Cuomo said, "we have forty-three cases of AIDS in the state prison system. I'll release all forty-three to you."
"Okay," she said. "I'd like to start with just the four. Now let me tell you about the building I have in mind. Would you like to pay for it?"
"Okay," Cuomo agreed, bowled over by this woman's intensity.
Then Mother Teresa turned to Mayor Koch, and she said to him, "Today is Monday. I'd like to open this on Wednesday. We're going to need some permits cleared. Could you please arrange those?"
Koch just looked at this tiny woman standing in his office and shook his head back and forth. "As long as you don't make me wash the floors," the mayor said.
THE FIRST STEP TOWARD SUCCESS IS IDENTIFYING YOUR OWN LEADERSHIP STRENGTHS.
Copyright © 1993 by Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc.