Following the leader
When I was a teenager, I spent my summers working at a day camp, and invariably by the time the kids went back to school, they were able to do an uncanny impression of me. They had my walk (pigeon-toed), talk (too fast) and mannerisms (lots of hand gestures) down pat.
To this day, I still can tell you what my first real boss a very unpleasant man always had for lunch, how he would smooth down his tie with three fingers of his left hand, and what color his face would turn when he thought I had made a mistake. The point of both these stories is simple: People, no matter how old they are, or what position they hold in the organization, spend an enormous amount of time watching what the person in charge does. That simple insight translates to another which was put forth by Peter Drucker years ago: "Leadership is performance." But how do you perform? How do you lead? If you want to find out, you must begin with Augustine's Travels: A World-Class Leaders Looks at Life, Business and What It Takes to Succeed at Both. Augustine, chairman of the defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp. is unique: a (real) rocket scientist with a sense of humor. The book would be worth the price just for Augustine's preface where he points out that his careers have basically consisted of overcoming being at the wrong place at the wrong time. (The first rocket he worked on blew up after a "flight" of 250 milliseconds.) He went to work for the Pentagon just before the Vietnam war hit high gear. He became a presidential appointee (Under Secretary of the Army) just before Richard M. Nixon resigned and he became CEO of Martin Marietta, a pure defense company, just before the Berlin Wall came down.
Augustine's first book, Augustine's Laws (Viking), not surprisingly dealt with how to avoid classic business mistakes. This one is broader and funnier. It deals with how to lead.
If you want to see how the best leaders teach, pick up The Spirit to Serve: Marriott's Way by J.W. Marriott, Jr. -- one of the best CEO autobiographies to come out in many years.
Sure, Bill Marriott does a great job of describing what goes on behind the scenes what people who work in the hotel industry call "the heart of the house" but the real joy in the book is the business insights he drops almost in passing. Everybody says it is important to be close to your customers, but Marriott gives you concrete reasons why. An example: Marriott's airline catering business started in the 1930s after Marriott's father noticed that airline customers were dropping into his Hot Shoppes restaurants right before their flights and ordering sandwiches and hot coffee to go. The reason? They wanted to eat on the plane. (This was at a time that airline meals were unknown.) Marriott Sr. hopped on a plane to visit Pan Am's corporate headquarters, and airline food was born. (It had to be better back then, right?) Similarly, Marriott concedes that having a 66-step checklist for how to clean a hotel room in less than 30 minutes seems a bit obsessive, but how are you going to consistently satisfy a customer unless you know that your service is going to be performed correctly the first time, every time? And if you really want to know what business travelers want in a hotel, why don't you ask them? That's exactly what Marriott did with Courtyard unit.
Marriott tells these stories in the book and to his employees so that they know what their company thinks is important.
What do you do if you head a huge (Lockheed Martin is 22nd on the Fortune 500) company? You concentrate on values, ethics and being the public image of what your company stands for and believes. After all, what else does a leader of a large corporation really have control over? The answer is not much, although Noel M. Tichy would add one more part to the CEO's job description. Above all else, says Tichy, a CEO must be a teacher.
Author of The Leadership Engine: How Winning Companies Build Leaders at Every Level with Eli Cohen, Tichy has spent his business lifetime studying why some companies succeed, while most don't. His conclusion? Winning companies have "good leaders who nurture the development of other leaders at all levels of the organization." And what do these leaders teach? Exactly what the person in charge of an organization should do, says Tichy: See reality size up the current situation, as it really is, not as it used to be or as they would like it to be.
Mobilize the appropriate responses. That means deciding on a response; determining what actions need to be taken to deliver that response and making sure those actions get implemented and well.
For an example of how not to lead, look at America's Stupidest Business Decisions: 101 Blunders, Flops and Screw Ups by Bill Adler Jr. and Julie Houghton.
Apparently working from stories clipped from the newspapers, Adler, an agent and author, and Houghton, an editor, list the usual suspects: New Coke, the Edsel, etc., but they also bring back memories of such long forgotten products as disposable paper clothing, Crystal Pepsi and the Ideal Toy Company's Baby Jesus doll, which didn't sell because "parents did not relish the thought of Baby Jesus being dragged upstairs by the hair, or being left in the middle of the living room." Retailers also had a problem with the doll. How can you write a headline that reads: "Jesus on sale this week"? After reading at least half of this mini-case studies you are bound to be asking yourself: "Whatever were they thinking?"