Insights for Leaders

The Highest Calling

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” — Harvey Firestone

Reflecting on his tenure as CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch writes: “My main job was developing talent.  I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people.”

Leadership guru, Warren Bennis warns: “Too many companies believe people are interchangeable.  Truly gifted people never are.  They have unique talents.  Such people cannot be forced into roles they are not suited for, nor should they be.  Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders develop great people — they figure out the unique talents of their people and place them in roles where those talents can flourish.

Proper Commanders

“I would rather have an army of rabbits led by a lion than an army of lions led by a rabbit.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

Legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, surmised: “Over 70% of people leave their jobs because of the way they are led.”

General Robert E. Lee lamented: “Our Army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered.  There were never such men in an Army before.  They will go anywhere and do anything.  But there is the difficulty — proper commanders.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders know the devastating cost of weak leadership and make sure to place “proper commanders” into those pivotal roles.


“The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.” — Max De Pree

Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, explains: “When we judge people in the company, one of the first questions I ask, in addition to what were the outcomes, is does this person have any followership? Because when people ask, “Well, how do you know who’s a leader?’ Pretty easy: Just look at the followership.”

Tom Peters, writer on business management practices and author of bestseller, In Search of Excellence, writes: “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders have followers, and, work intentionally to build those followers into leaders.

The Culture Game

“Culture drives great results.” — Jack Welch

Lou Gerstner, who orchestrated the turnaround at IBM as CEO from 1993-2002 writes: “I came to see, in my decade at IBM, the culture isn’t just one aspect of the game — it is the game.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO of internet shopping website, who is credited with building an exemplary employee culture that consistently delivers exceptional service experiences observes: “Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders intentionally build their culture knowing it will ultimately drive results.

Embracing Failure

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

Sara Blakely, the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire and founder of Spanx, a multi-million dollar undergarment company, admitted: “My dad encouraged us to fail.  Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week.  If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed.  It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying.”

Basketball legend, Michael Jordan, observed: “I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot…and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders embrace failure, realizing it can be the doorway to a new start, growth and ultimately success.

Never Stop Learning!

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” — John F. Kennedy

Coach John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA national basketball championships in 12 years for UCLA, recognized: “If I am through learning, I am through.”  Abraham Lincoln observed: “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

Anne Mulcahy, former Xerox Chairman and CEO admitted, “I am still learning.  That is an important mark of a good leaderto know you don’t know it all and never will.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders are teachable, realize they don’t know it all, and never stop learning.


Live Your Passion

“Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do that!” — John Eldredge

Nelson Mandela, who for 20 years led the campaign against the racist policies of the South African government and later became the country’s first black president, observed: “There is no passion to be found in playing smallin settling for a life that is less than what you are capable of living.”

Steve Jobs lured John Sculley away from Pepsi in 1983 to become Apple’s CEO by challenging him with a provocative question: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”  At that time, it seemed Sculley was immovable, as the youngest President in PepsiCo’s history and credited with the highly successful “Pepsi Challenge”.  Steve Jobs’ appeal to his passion changed that.

The Bottom Line: Leaders discover and pursue their passion and call out passion in others.

When to Stand Firm

“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” — Abraham Lincoln

Starbucks Founder and CEO, Howard Schultz cautions, “Be very careful not to allow the values of the company to be compromised by an ambition to grow.  Growth can be a seductive evil if it isn’t built on the right foundation.  If you do it right and maintain those values, growth will be managed so you don’t lose the soul of the company.”

Tiger Woods, reflecting on his marital infidelities, observed: “I stopped living according to my core values.  I knew what I was doing was wrong but thought only about myself and thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to do.”

The Bottom LineLeaders establish and hold to their core values, especially in the face of pressure to compromise.

The Final Test: Succession

“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and will to carry on.” — Walter Lippmann

In 2000, after 24 years of growing Home Depot to $46 billion in revenues, founders Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus began to see their most significant oversightthey never prepared leaders inside the company to replace them. Looking back, Mr. Marcus observed: “Because Arthur and I were always there, our people never developed the talent they need to run the companyOur presence created this wall.”

Jim Collins writes in How the Mighty Fall, “Leaders who fail the process of succession set their enterprises on a path to decline. Sometimes they wait too long; sometimes they never address the question at all; sometimes they have bad luck and their chosen successor leaves or dies….and sometimes they just flat out pick badly.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders tackle the complex challenge of succession planning, realizing it is the ultimate and final leadership test.

Persistence > Brilliance

“Action is the real measure of intelligence.” — Napoleon Hill

Peter Drucker writes in The Effective Executive, “There seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence….Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that brilliant insight is not by itself achievement.”

Albert Einstein put his genius in perspective when observing, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”  Winston Churchill also valued persistence over brilliance saying, “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence –is the key to unlocking our potential.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders value persistence over brilliance, realizing brilliance does not correlate with effectiveness and achievement.