Insights for Leaders

Think and Rethink

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” — Jerry Seinfeld

Henry Ford believed, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” Martin Luther King agreed saying, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

This resistance to thinking is a major reason why many organizations go out of effectiveness. Bill Gates understands this writing, “The complacent company is a dead company. Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders do the hard work of thinking, realizing the constant need to rethink and reinvent to survive and stay out front.

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.

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.

Quality Obsession

“I consider a bad bottle of Heineken to be a personal insult to me.” — Freddy Heineken, founder of Dutch beer giant

A key to creating a strong brand is an obsession with delivering a quality product. Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey Chocolate said, “Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising in the world.”

Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks writes, “The taste of our coffee has created such a quality experience that we’ve been able to convince people over the last 20 years that it’s still a very good value even though it’s more expensive than traditional coffee you can find at a diner.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders consistently deliver a quality product knowing that higher quality creates higher value which in turn influences sales.

Listen Up!

“If there is any great secret in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own.” — Henry Ford

Stephen Covey writes, “The single most important principle in interpersonal relations is, seek first to understand, then to be understood.” He explains that most people fail at this discipline because they do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Craig Newmark, founder of the popular website Craigslist, has had great success with this principle. Speaking about his website, Craig admits, “There’s no genius behind it. It’s persistence and listening to people.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders listen with the intention to understand and this results in greater effectiveness with people and in business.

The Will to Prepare

“The will to win is important but the will to prepare is vital.”– Joe Patterno

A football team would not think of taking the field without first reviewing their game plan. Yet people and organizations routinely “hit the field” with no goals or plan.

Preparation becomes even more essential when coordinating multiple people.  Walt Disney understood this and disclosed, “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the people who work with me and aiming their views at a certain goal.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders prepare their teams by clarifying plans and targeting well-defined, shared goals.


“Good strategy involves the clear-headed thinking about the intersection of three critical ideas: what makes money, what we are good at and what we stand for.” — Jim Collins, Good to Great

Jim Collins explains that as you discover these three critical ideas, it will bring an elegant simplicity to your thinking that brings clarity out of complexity and facilitates excellent decision making. These are some of the many benefits of good strategy.

The word “strategy” derives from the Greek word strategos, which refers to a military commander leading his men forward in a planned and coordinated way. Strategos conjures up the image of a general in the war room surrounded by his top officers, looking at the battlefield and mapping out their plan for victory.

The Bottom Line: Leaders take the time to discover good strategy knowing it is critical to advancing their organization at the correct pace toward a meaningful vision with an integrated plan.

Strategic Learning

“Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” — Dr. Edward Deming

CEO Jack Welch put a high premium on learning in his tenure at GE, observing, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” 

Ironically, some of your most strategic learning can be found with the people you least want to engage — your unsatisfied customers. According to Bill Gates, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” 

The Bottom LineLeaders develop learning cultures, addressing the hard issues and then taking action to create greater advantage.

Eagle Eye

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.  The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” — Alexander Graham Bell

Focus is critical to success – we see this principle in nature, war and business. Once an eagle has spotted its prey, it does not take its eyes off the creature until it strikes.   Neither Alexander the Great nor Julius Caesar could have conquered the then known world if he had neglected to concentrate forces.  Nike’s then CEO, Philip Knight, declared, “We wanted Nike to be the world’s best sports and fitness company. Once you say that, you have a focus. You don’t end up making wing tips.”

Legendary Coach Vincent Lombardi said, “Success demands singleness of purpose.”  Coach Lombardi knew how to bring his coaches and players into alignment behind a single game plan with a pure focus.

 The Bottom LineLeaders work to bring alignment to their people and an unrelenting focus on their mission.

The Marketing Edge

“In real estate it’s ‘location, location, location’.  In marketing it’s ‘differentiate, differentiate, differentiate’.” — Roberto Goizeuta

The key to marketing is differentiation.  Your customer must perceive your product/service as different, better and more special

Effective differentiation is achieved by understanding your customer.  Astute customer insights establish the foundation of an excellent marketing strategy and are best discovered “in the trenches” where your customer works and lives.  Positioning expert Al Ries explains, “Strategy should evolve out of the mud of the marketplace, not in the antiseptic environment of an ivory tower.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders understand the world of their customer and use that knowledge to strategically differentiate their product/service.