“It takes a great man to be a good listener.” —Calvin Coolidge
When I was a minor league baseball executive in the 1960s, I had to go to Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter and tell him that an individual in his organization was hurting his business. My stomach was in knots as I entered Mr. Carpenter’s office and laid it all out.
He listened, then said, “Why am I always the last to know?”
All too often, leaders are in the dark about major problems in their organizations. That’s why leaders must be good listeners. They must not only hear people out—they must draw people out.
Your followers are reluctant to bring you bad news. Make sure they know they can bring you any information, good or bad, and you won’t “kill the messenger.”
Great leaders don’t wait for news—they seek it out. General George Patton said that leaders should always talk to the soldiers. The troops, he said, “know more about the war than anybody. Make them tell you all of their gripes. Make sure they know we are doing everything we can to help them.”[i]
At least half of a healthy communication process is listening. When there’s bad news in your organization, make sure you’re not the last to know.
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” —Doug Larson
Around the globe, the pace of change is accelerating. Leaders who cannot adapt to change will be steamrolled by it.
As Robert Safian observes in Fast Company, the smartphone market was dominated by three companies in 2007: Nokia, Research in Motion, and Motorola. Within five years, the smartphone industry had been upended, leaving Apple and Samsung in command.
Across the leadership landscape, old ways of doing things are being radically redefined. Automobiles, Safian notes, have become “rolling, talking, cloud-connected media hubs. In an age where Twitter and other social-media tools play key roles in recasting the political map in the Mideast . . . there is no question that we are in a new world.”[ii]
Leaders who do not force change run the risk of becoming irrelevant. When crises come, don’t panic—innovate! Become an agent of change. Don’t merely navigate change—make change happen. That’s the essence of great leadership.
“For the past thirty-three years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” —Steve Jobs
[i] Robert Safian, “This is Generation Flux: Meet the Pioneers of the New (and Chaotic) Frontier Of Business,” Fast Company, January 9, 2012.
“I was not always a risk taker. My risk profile changed when I faced my own mortality.” —Kathy Giusti
Kathy Giusti founded the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) after she was diagnosed with myeloma—plasma cell cancer of the blood and bone marrow. I met Kathy in 2011, after I was diagnosed.
In 1996, when Kathy was diagnosed, five-year survival odds were 1 in 10. Research was almost nonexistent. A leader of Vision, Kathy dreamed of a cure. A leader of Communication Skills, she spoke out for research. She used her People Skills to urge universities, hospitals, and drug companies to work together.
A leader of Character, Kathy built the MMRF into an organization of integrity. She applied the Competence she had earned at Harvard Business School to raise $3/4 billion for research. A leader of Boldness, she dared to challenge drug companies and researchers to sacrifice self-interest to fast-track new drugs. Her boldness succeeded.
A leader with A Serving Heart, Kathy has driven the development of six new myeloma drugs in the past decade. I have received all six. Today, five-year survival odds are 4 in 10—and improving. Kathy’s Seven-Sided Leadership saved my life.
“I have faced chemotherapy, run meetings in scarves hiding my bald head, endured a bone marrow transplant and isolation. I travel every week concerned about infections. Through it all, I have persevered and stayed focused on the mission.” —Kathy Giusti
“Thousands of books have been written on leadership, but few on servanthood.” —Rick Warren
General Tommy Franks, who led Coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, told me about a lesson he learned as an Army captain. For no apparent reason, a once-excellent soldier began showing up late, disheveled, and surly to formation.
Franks called him in and said, “You used to be a sharp trooper. Now you’re on your way to being court-martialed. What’s your story?”
The young man said that his grandmother, who had raised him and his little brother, had died. The trooper had requested leave to help his brother get situated—but his request was denied. So his little brother was placed in a group foster home, where a thug cut the boy’s throat and killed him. “I requested leave to go bury my brother,” the trooper said. “Again, request denied.”
Stunned, choking back tears, Franks said, “I know it’s too late to help you, but I’m giving you that leave. Take as long as you need. Later, if you want out of the Army, I’ll get you an honorable discharge.”
Franks then gave himself and the officers and NCOs under his command an assignment: Read the personnel folders of every soldier and get to know them. “When a trooper comes to you with a problem, it’s your problem and my problem, too.”
“To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.” —André Malraux
“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
I got to know Coach John Wooden when he was in his nineties. He graciously invited me into his home where we had many hours of unforgettable conversation. Often, we’d enjoy a meal together at the Valley Inn, his favorite restaurant. Then we’d go back to his condo where he would recite a poem he had written as the Mills Brothers harmonized on his old-fashioned record player.
When entering his home, I felt I was in a Hall of Fame lined with photos, plaques, and memorabilia. The place of prominence in his front hallway was devoted to two people, neither of them sports figures—Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa.
“They’re my heroes,” Coach once told me. “I admire them for their wonderful character qualities—their courage, selflessness, humility, and the way they served others. Can you think of two better heroes to have than Lincoln and Mother Teresa?”
During one of my visits, I noticed a pillow that adorned the sofa in his den. The pillow had a quotation embroidered on it: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love. —Mother Teresa.”
That’s authentic wisdom from a little woman with a vast heart. As leaders, let’s focus on doing everything, including the small things, with great love.
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” —Muhammad Ali
“Kill the snake of doubt in your soul.” —Kate Seredy
Mississippi-born Jim Barksdale was CEO of Netscape Communications from 1995 until 1999, when the company merged with AOL. During a Netscape management retreat, Barksdale formulated what has come to be known as “The Three Snake Rule”—a handy, easy-to-remember guide to bold decision-making for individuals and organizations:
“The first rule: If you see a snake, kill it. Don’t set up a snake committee. Don’t set up a snake user group. Don’t write snake memos. Kill it.
“The second rule: Don’t play with dead snakes. (Don’t revisit decisions.)
“The paradoxical third rule: All opportunities start out looking like snakes.”[i]
Thomas Watson Jr., the second president of IBM, once made a statement that could serve as a commentary on The Three Snake Rule: “I never varied from the managerial rule that the worst possible thing we could do would be to lie dead in the water with any problem. Solve it, solve it quickly, solve it right or wrong. If you solved it wrong, it would come back and slap you in the face and then you could solve it right. Doing nothing is a comfortable alternative because it is without immediate risk, but it is an absolutely fatal way to manage a business.”[ii]
What are the snakes in the path of your leadership role or your organization? How are you going to deal with those snakes?
“Never wound a snake; kill it.” —Harriet Tubman
High school buddies Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice-cream shop in 1978. Jerry, the introvert, ran the shop and manufactured ice cream. Ben, the extrovert, marketed the Ben and Jerry’s brand. Together, they made an unbeatable team.
We see the same dynamic in the founders of Apple Computers. Outgoing and charismatic Steve Jobs perfectly complemented his brilliant-yet-introverted partner, Steve Wozniak. The pairing of these two opposites produced one of the greatest companies of all time.
The pattern is repeated in Microsoft cofounders Bill Gates (extroverted marketing genius and deal-maker) and Paul Allen (introverted manager and tech innovator). We see this pattern in Hewlett-Packard co-founders David Packard (driven extrovert) and William Hewlett (easygoing introvert). We see it again in the relationship between Walt Disney (imaginative extroverted genius) and his brother Roy (pragmatic introverted financier).
Orlando Magic co-owner Rich DeVos co-founded Amway with Jay Van Andel. Rich was the extroverted salesman, while Jay was the introverted problem-solver. Rich and Jay magnified each other’s strengths and compensated for each other’s weaknesses.
In your leadership life, merge your strengths with someone who complements you, then go out and conquer the world together.
“Business partners have to have complementary personalities. This is different from complementary skills. . . . If you and your partner both want to be Donald Trump, it’s not going to work. Sorry.” —Jesse Bouman
“Without character, you can’t have wisdom, in spite of competence. Without wisdom, you simply can’t build and maintain an enduring institution, whether it be a marriage, a family, a team, or a company.” —Stephen R. Covey
Bill Lear (1902-1978) was an inventor and businessman, best known for founding the Lear Jet Corporation. Soon after he introduced the Lear business jet in 1963, two Lear jets crashed. Investigators couldn’t discover the cause. Lear ordered the grounding of the other fifty-five planes that had been sold—a move that cost him many prospective buyers.
But Lear was committed to doing the right thing at any cost. Not willing to risk the life of a test pilot, he flew one of his own Lear Jets, simulating the conditions under which the planes had crashed. He nearly met the fate of the previous pilots—but he succeeded in isolating and correcting the design flaw. He made the correction in all fifty-five planes at his own expense.
As Dave Kraft concluded in Leaders Who Last, it took Bill Lear “two years to rebuild the business. . . . He lost money and risked his own life, but he never compromised his character.”[i]
What risks would you take, what price would you pay, to maintain your character?
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” —Coach John Wooden
“You can always find people with hard skills, but success or failure often depends on the softer people skills. These are more difficult to find.” —Evan M. Berman
People skills are sometimes called “soft skills,” as opposed to such “hard skills” as technical expertise. People skills have to do with maintaining positive, cooperative relationships with superiors, subordinates, and the public. Good people skills are essential to good leadership. People skills include (but are not limited to):
• Self-control. Leaders with good people skills control their emotions, especially anger. They fix problems, not blame.
• Even-handedness. Good leaders avoid office politics, factions, and turf wars. They deal with difficult people in a constructive way.
• Kindness. Leaders with people skills have compassion and empathy for others.
• Listening skills. Great leaders care enough to listen and learn.
• Tolerance and acceptance. Good leaders accept differing opinions and personality types.
• Ability to coach and mentor. Leaders with people skills are committed to the growth of their followers.
• Unselfishness. Leaders sacrifice their interests for others.
• Love. Every people skill is an extension of our commitment to love others.
Which people skills do you excel in? Which do you need to strengthen?
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” —Mohandas K. Gandhi