Where have all the leaders gone

„Where have all the leaders gone?“ by Lee Iacocca redefines old concepts through a bold perspective, one that asks all the tough questions that should be on everyone’s mind. Whether he talks about politics or running a company or leading an exemplary life, Leo does it in a simple language but with heavy meaning.

Lee Iacocca is the former president of Ford Motor and Chrysler Corporation and a bestselling author. He spends his life traveling, giving speeches, and supporting the Iacocca Foundation, which funds research for a cure for diabetes. The Iacocca Foundation was founded in 1984 after his wife Mary died from complications of Type I diabetes.

A leader in a crisis

 

James Dunne III was one of the three managing partners of a small investment firm of Sandler O’Neil and Partners.

On the day of the World Trade Center disaster, he was on the gulf course. He wasn’t doing a great job at being a leader. He wasn’t interested in running a company. Being on the gulf course that day saved his life. His other two partners, together with sixty-four employees died in the terrorist attacks. The future didn’t look bright for the company. But what people didn’t take into account was James’ determination.

He was the type of leader born out of a crisis. It didn’t James long to bring his firm back. This time, he made it bigger, stronger, and better. He was committed to the people working in that company, including those who died. The first thing he did, after the smoke cleared out was to reassure the families of the victims that the company was going to take care of them. That he did.

In 2001, he paid our salaries, bonuses, and proceeds of trades as if the employees were still coming to work every day. He arranged full pensions and set up a foundation to pay for the educations of all the children who’d lost their parents. Competitors lend a hand.

Workers felt energized and motivated. The firm was more successful than ever.

Talk about becoming inspired and taking the lead.

People and priorities

The two most important variables in a company are the people you choose and the priorities you set.

“Your success or failure comes down to your team. The ray material has to be there first”.

The man at the top is just as important as the team behind him.

The right people will help you set the right priorities. Having the right priorities helps you get the right people.

 

Leaders have to change with time

 

            No matter your skills or abilities, one thing is certain. If you don’t embrace change and adapt, you become complacent. The moment you become complacent you know you’ve lost. We measure success or failure by our ability to adapt to change.

There are countless companies that have gone under because of the management’s inability to adapt to change.

            On the other hand, great start-ups have done well because they went head-to-head with those giants that have become complacent. The big giants were too fat and too arrogant and have stopped looking ahead. It’s what happened when Enterprise, car rental has beaten Avis and Hertz.

They became the biggest in North America. Nobody thought they could do. After all, the market was already dominated by the two big giants. They thought things through and came up with the original idea to pick their clients up and bring them to their rental offices. How about Fred Smith who dared to challenge the US Postal Office by coming up with Federal Express. Now, it’s the postal office that pays the Federal Express to deliver the packages they cannot get around to delivering.

            When companies get big, they tend to grow sluggish.

            The same goes for people. It takes a constant infusion of fresh ideas and leadership. Initiative and constant curiosity is the way out whether we talk about the companies we work in or our personal lives.

Is bigger better?

 

            Bigger can be better but not always. A lot of companies either get bought or merge with other companies, with the belief that bigger is better.

            They tend to start from the premise that together they can provide better service for the end client, when, most of the time, that’s not the case. The client is left hanging, having to deal with complicated procedures that seem to make his life more difficult than the other way around. A merger is about synergy. The purpose is to create a stronger entity than each of the two parts. The result should be a leaner, more efficient, and more profitable enterprise.

            However, in the midst of it all, bear one thing in mind: your customer.

            Brian Kurtz, talks about priorities. In “Overdeliver”, he speaks about the experience he has gathered as the CEO of the marketing company he’s founded. He made sure the client was his top priority.

Brian did more than that. He personally sat in the client service department and did the call center’s job to come closer to his customers and identify points of improvement. Not a lot of entrepreneurs today can say the same.

I remember talking over the phone with the CEO of an animal food delivery company. As we were talking, I asked her whether she ever called their client service department. To my surprise, she said she never did. At least she was honest about it. If she had, she would have found out that her employees seem to resume to the bare minimum. There’s no joy in their voices. They don’t go out of their way to make notes about what’s important for their clients even though I specified, every time, that timing is the most important thing to me and not the additional costs to make it happen. For some reason, they never paid any attention. 

The Nine Cs of Leadership

 

Lee gives us a scheme we can use to measure a leader’s capabilities. Even though he talks from a leader’s perspective, the scheme is valid for both professional and personal life. Being a leader doesn’t mean managing people. As “Emotional Intelligence” teaches us: in order to inspire we have to be inspired. If we want people to do, act, and behave we have to “walk the talk”. Stand behind our principles and try as hard as possible to not go astray.

Curiosity

 

An exemplary individual should be an avid reader. As Lee says: if we see a child reading, whether it’s a comic book or a dinosaur book, we know he’s going places. Reading expands our imagination and a good leader is the one not only holding the information but using it to inspire action.

We cannot advance if we look only to surround ourselves only with “Yes, sir” type of individuals. A fresh new perspective is something we shouldn’t fear but embrace. It doesn’t mean our perspective is in danger. It just means it offers us the opportunity to test our own perspective and prove when we are right not only impose our point of view.

The inability to listen to other perspectives is a sign of arrogance. It either means you think you know it all or you just don’t care.

A curious individual steps outside his comfort zone. Evy Pompouras says the same thing in “Becoming bullet proof”. Only outside our comfort zone can we evolve and strengthen our abilities. The more we reach, the stronger we get.

Creativity

 

A leader should think outside the box. It doesn’t necessarily mean to come up with new ideas every time. It sometimes means giving a fresh perspective of something old. “The technique of producing new ideas” by James Webb Young points out that not all of us are Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. But all of us can come up with a better version of something. It’s all about looking in places that haven’t been explored. It’s about coming up with a new twist. Even if something works, it doesn’t mean there cannot be room for improvement.

Communication

 

It’s paramount in a time of crisis. Talk to the people you’re working with. Be straight about problems. Don’t leave things out. Ask for help. A lot of managers don’t get as much involved in their companies as they should.

We have to communicate with people instead of assuming they know what’s going on. Even if they have an idea, putting it all out there might get the support you need.

Face reality and speak the truth even when it’s painful.

           

Character

 

Having character in Lee’s view is to know the difference between right and wrong and have the guts to choose the right thing. In politics, it’s plain and simple that decisions are made based on winning or keeping popularity votes. People talk about principles but there are very few who have the courage to live by them. If we say something but do something else, there’s only a matter of time before people realize what we’re all about.

Courage

 

Or as Lee put it: to have balls. The same goes for female leaders. Have the courage to sit down at the negotiating table and talk. If you’re a politician, it means taking a position even though it might cost you votes.

Conviction

 

It’s obvious when a person is doing the bare minimum or puts his heart and soul into everything he/she does. There no way of faking passion and passionate people always get ahead.

Being passionate doesn’t mean waiting for the right job to give it all you’ve got. It means giving all you’ve got in the job you have, no matter what that is.

Charisma

 

Having charisma means having that quality that makes people want to follow you no matter what. It’s the ability to inspire action.

People follow a leader because they trust him not because they have to. Some people are naturals. Others have to work at it. It all comes down to loving to deal with people. There’s no faking it.

Competency

 

If you’re in a leader’s position, you have to know what you’re doing. If you don’t possess the skills, surround yourself with people who can. After all, a leader doesn’t have to be the smartest person in the room. He just has to know who to call when he needs something to get done.

Common Sense

 

It derives from all the above, being the sum of all, at the same time.

Change constantly

 

Change should be the only constant in our lives. Even though, Lee talks about the change in the context of globalization, it doesn’t mean we cannot apply it in our professional and personal lives.

Change brings about challenges. When challenges come our way, we can either freeze, flight or fight, as Evy Pompouras tells us in her “Becoming bullet proof”. We should welcome challenges. They help us shake our complacency and advance. We should be scared when we hear: “let’s keep doing things exactly the way we’ve been doing them for 20 years”. There’s no fighting chance. But we can welcome it and adapt.

We have to first see it before dealing with it. Accept it. That’s the hardest part. It’s true for individuals, families, and companies alike.

Strive for more. Aim for better. Embrace the “different”. Never stop wanting more of yourself and those around you. As Lee’s father taught him: “if an endeavor or a relationship didn’t work out, there is always something else to try or someone else to meet”.

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