Insights for Leaders

War Footing

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

Vice Admiral James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years. When asked by author, Jim Collins, how he survived, he described balancing hope and realism. Collins summarizes the concept that has become known as “The Stockdale Paradox“: Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND confront the most brutal facts of your current reality whatever they may be. Stockdale said that the optimists didn’t survive capture because they told themselves that release was right around the corner and they died of a broken heart.

The Bottom Line: Leaders get on a war footing, tempering optimism with the brutal reality of their situation.

Critic vs Coach

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.” — Benjamin Franklin

Author Dave DeWitt writes about leaders who are critics vs coaches. A critic thinks about exposing problems, a coach thinks about attending to problems. A critic tries to impress people, a coach tries to impact people. A critic is issue-oriented, a coach is people-oriented. A critic sees problem people as a hassle, a coach sees problem people as a challenge. A critic makes problems a wall between himself and others, a coach makes problems a wall to climb with others from the same side.

The Bottom Line: Leaders are people-oriented and work alongside others as a problem solver and a change agent.

Maximizing Potential

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” — J.C. Penney

Greek philosopher Plato underscored the importance of goal setting when he said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work.”

Master sales trainer Zig Ziglar believes, “Unless you have definite, precise, clearly set goals, you are not going to realize the maximum potential that lies within you.” He adds, “When you set goals, something inside of you starts saying, “Let’s go, let’s go,” and ceilings start to move up.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders use the discipline of effective goal setting to get focused, motivate themselves and maximize their potential.


“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” — Lily Tomlin

Fifteenth Century inventor/genius, Leonardo Da Vinci advised, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance.” American Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin was another advocate of ‘R&R’ writing, “He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders take time away to rest, knowing they will return refreshed and more capable to deal with the challenges at hand.

Courage and Risk

“The man who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.” — Dale Carnegie

Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines Founder and former CEO and Chairman, built a company consistently named among the top five “Most Admired Corporations in America” in Fortune magazine’s annual poll. Fortune has also called him “Perhaps the best CEO in America.”

Reflecting on the start-up, Mr. Kelleher writes, “Everybody in Texas would tell me they thought I was nuts trying to start Southwest Airlines. There probably weren’t 10 people in the state who would have given a plug nickel for our chances of making a dollar. So sometimes, you need a little courage, just to buck popular opinion.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders have courage to take risk that at times defies ‘conventional wisdom’.

Money Follows Vision

Capital isn’t scarce; vision is.  – Sam Walton

Google co-founder Larry Page articulates a clear and compelling vision for his company: “Basically, our goal is to organize the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful.”

An effective vision simply communicates a desirable future that is a stretch but is also achievableMichael Phelps went to Beijing with a vision of attaining something never done before — winning eight gold medals in the Olympics.

The Bottom Line: Leaders invest the time required to develop a clear and compelling vision of the future.

High Performance Teams

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” — Michael Jordan

Casey Stengel, the only person to manage a baseball team to five consecutive World Series championships explained, “It’s easy to get good players. Getting them to play together, that’s the hard part.”

Team building gurus Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith have identified the critical factor in the team formation process: “Within teams, there is nothing more important than each team member’s commitment to a common purpose and set of related performance goals for which the group holds itself jointly accountable.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders achieve extraordinary results by strategically building high performance teams.

Leaders Create Leaders

“Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” — Tom Peters

Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder and CEO explains, “You can’t keep your finger on the pulse of all the issues you’ll face; no one person can do everything. You need the self-esteem to hire people who are smarter than you and give them the autonomy to manage their own areas. Surround yourself with great people and get out of the way; don’t try to micromanage things as you did early on.”

The E-Myth author Michael Gerber writes, “If they don’t fail outright, most businesses fail to fully achieve their potential. That’s because the person who owns the business doesn’t truly know how to build a company that works without him or her…which is the key.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders multiply their leadership capacity by empowering other highly skilled people to lead in their area of expertise.

Iron Sharpens Iron

David Ogilvy, once known as “the creative king of the advertising world” wrote, If you ever find a man who is better than you are — hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”

Warren Buffet understands the principle that ‘iron sharpens iron’ and advises, “It’s better to hang out with people better than you…pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders surround themselves with intelligent, talented people who help keep them on the cutting edge.

Leadership vs Management

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
— Stephen R. Covey

Leadership guru, Warren Bennis, offers an insightful differentiation between leadership and management: “The leader innovates; the manager administrates. The leader focuses on people; the manager focuses on systems and structure. The leader inspires; the manager controls. The leader sees the long-term; the manager sees the short-term. The leader asks what and why? The manager asks how and when?”

The Bottom Line: Leadership and management require opposing skill sets and organizations need both to flourish.