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.

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.

Opportunities vs Problems

“Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.” — Jim Collins

Peter Drucker observes, “It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem.”

Warren Buffet advises, “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders seize opportunities, give them ‘top priority’ status and dedicate their best people to those assignments.

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 Challenge of Change

“Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” — Babe Ruth

Jim Collins writes in his latest best seller, Great by Choice: “Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.” Changing at the right time and in the right direction is challenging!

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The Bottom Line: Leaders figure out how and when to change to meet changing times and new challenges.

What Customers Don’t Know

“If I’d ask my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” — Henry Ford

Innovator extraordinaire, Steve Jobs believed: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups.  A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz observed: “Customers don’t always know what they want. The decline in coffee-drinking was due to the fact that most of the coffee people bought was stale and they weren’t enjoying it.  Once they tasted ours and experienced what we call “the third place” – a gathering place between home and work where they were treated with respect – they found we were filling a need they didn’t know they had.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders realize when innovating, there is a time when it is best NOT to ask for their customer’s opinion.


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by.  And that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton was a trailblazer observing, “I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been.”

According to Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz, “Whatever you do, don’t play it safe.   Don’t do things the way they’ve always been done.  Don’t try to fit the system.  If you do what’s expected of you, you’ll never accomplish more than others expect.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders are wary of the well-beaten path, preferring to step out courageously and blaze new trails.


“Systems create behaviors.” — Andy Stanley

Best-selling author/consultant Tom Peters states, “Most ‘quality programs’ fail for one or two reasons.  They have a system without passion, or passion without a system.  You must have both.”

Quality guru W.E. Deming observes, “Put a good employee in a bad system and the system always wins.”  Ken Blanchard writes in Raving Fans, “To be consistent you have to have systems.  At the core of every great customer service organization is a package of systems and a training program to inculcate those systems into the soul of the company.  That’s what guarantees consistency.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders depend on systems to create behaviors; and, they know for a system to produce quality, it must be fueled with passion.

Strategic Change

“At the end of every day of every year, two things remain unshakable, our constancy of purpose and our continuous discontent with the immediate present.” — Roberto Goizueta

IBM founder Thomas Watson remarked, “If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except its basic philosophy of doing business.”

Jim Collins articulates this principle as “preserve the core and stimulate progress“. He writes, “A visionary company doesn’t simply balance between preserving a tightly held core ideology and stimulating vigorous change and movement; it does both to an extreme.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders build their enterprise around an unchangeable core ideology, and are prepared and willing to change everything but that core ideology.

Knowing What Counts

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein

Peter Drucker observes, “Few executives yet know how to ask: what information do I need to do my job? When do I need it? In what form? And from whom should I be getting it?”

Billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates writes: “For me, goals and daily metrics are the key to keeping me focused. If I don’t have access to the right stats, every day, it is so easy for me to move on mentally to the next thing. But if I have quick access to key metrics every day, my creativity stays within certain boundsmy ideas all center on how to achieve our goals.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders identify and track success measures and consistently focus on achieving specific goals.