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FINDING THE LEADER IN YOU
Charles Schwab was paid a salary of a million dollars a year in the steel business, and he told me that he was paid this huge salary largely because of his ability to handle people. Imagine that! A million dollars a year because he was able to handle people! One day at noontime, Schwab was walking through one of his steel mills when he came across a group of men smoking directly under a sign that said No Smoking.
Do you suppose that Charles Schwab pointed at the sign and said, "Can't you read?"
Absolutely not, not that master of human relations.
Mr. Schwab chatted with the men in a friendly way and never said a word about the fact that they were smoking under a No Smoking sign.
Finally he handed them some cigars and said with a twinkle in his eye, "I'd appreciate it, boys, if you'd smoke these outside."
That is all he said. Those men knew that he knew that they had broken a rule, and they admired him because he hadn't called them down. He had been such a good sport with them that they in turn wanted to be good sports with him.
Fred Wilpon is the president of the New York Mets baseball team. One afternoon Wilpon was leading a group of school children on a tour of Shea Stadium. He let them stand behind home plate. He took them into the team dugouts. He walked them through the private passage to the clubhouse. As the final stop on his tour, Wilpon wanted to take the students into the stadium bull pen, where the pitchers warm up.
But right outside the bull pen gate, the group was stopped by a uniformed security guard.
"The bull pen isn't open tothe public," the guard told Wilpon, obviously unaware of who he was. "I'm sorry, but you can't go out there."
Now, Fred Wilpon certainly had the power to get what he wanted right then and there. He could have berated the poor security guard for failing to recognize such an important person as himself. With a dramatic flourish, Wilpon could have whipped out his top-level security pass and shown the wide-eyed children how much weight he carried at Shea.
Wilpon did none of that. He led the students to the far side of the stadium and took them into the bull pen through another gate.
Why did he bother to do that? Wilpon didn't want to embarrass the security guard. The man, after all, was doing his job and doing it well. Later that afternoon Wilpon even sent off a handwritten note, thanking the guard for showing such concern.
Had Wilpon chosen instead to yell or cause a scene, the guard might well have ended up feeling resentful, and no doubt his work would have suffered as a result. Wilpon's gentle approach made infinitely more sense. The guard felt great about the compliment. And you can bet he'll recognize Wilpon the next time the two of them happen to meet.
Fred Wilpon is a leader and not just because of the title he holds or the salary he earns. What makes him a leader of men and women is how he has learned to interact.
In the past people in the business world didn't give much thought to the true meaning of leadership. The boss was the boss, and he was in charge. Period. End of discussion.
Well-run companies -- no one ever spoke about "well-led companies" -- were the ones that operated in almost military style. Orders were delivered from above and passed down through the ranks.
Remember Mr. Dithers from the Blondie comic strip? "BUM-STEAD!" he would scream, and young Dagwood would come rushing into the boss's office like a frightened puppy. Lots of real-life companies operated that way for years. The companies that weren't run like army platoons were barely run at all. They just puttered along as they always had, secure in some little niche of a market that hadn't been challenged for years. The message from above was always, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"
The people who had responsibility sat in their offices and managed what they could. That's what they were expected to do -- to "manage." Maybe they steered the organizations a few degrees to the left or a few degrees to the right. Usually they tried to deal with whatever obvious problems presented themselves, and then they called it a day.
Back when the world was a simpler place, management like this was fine. Rarely visionary, but fine, as life rolled predictably along.
But mere management simply isn't enough anymore. The world is too unpredictable, too volatile, too fast-moving for such an uninspired approach. What's needed now is something much deeper than old-fashioned business management. What's needed is leadership, to help people achieve what they are capable of, to establish a vision for the future, to encourage, to coach and to mentor, and to establish and maintain successful relationships.
"Back when business operated in a more stable environment, management skills were sufficient," says Harvard business school professor John Quelch. "But when the business environment becomes volatile, when the waters are uncharted, when your mission requires greater flexibility than you ever imagined it would -- that's when leadership skills become critical."
"The change is already taking place, and I'm not sure all organizations are ready for it," says Bill Makahilahila, Director of Human Resources at SGS-Thomson Microelectronics, Inc., a leading semiconductor manufacturer. "The position called 'manager' may not exist too much longer, and the concept of 'leadership' will be redefined. Companies today are going through that struggle. They are realizing, as they begin to downsize their operations and reach for greater productivity, that facilitative skills are going to be primary. Good communication, interpersonal skills, the ability to coach, model, and build teams -- all of that requires more and better leaders.
"You can't do it by directive anymore. It has to be by influence. It takes real 'people skills.'"
Many people still have a narrow understanding of what leadership really is. You say, "leader" and they think general, president, prime minister, or chairman of the board. Obviously, people in those exalted positions are expected to lead, an expectation they meet with varying levels of success. But the fact of the matter is that leadership does not begin and end at the very top. It is every bit as important, perhaps more important, in the places most of us live and work.
Organizing a small work team, energizing an office support staff, keeping things happy at home -- those are the front lines of leadership. Leadership is never easy. But thankfully, something else is also true: Every one of us has the potential to be a leader every day.
The team facilitator, the middle manager, the account executive, the customer-service operator, the person who works in the mail room -- just about anyone who ever comes in contact with others has good reason to learn how to lead.
To an enormous degree their leadership skills will determine how much success they achieve and how happy they will be. Not just at work, either. Families, charity groups, sports teams, civic associations, social clubs, you name it -- every one of those organizations has a tremendous need for dynamic leadership.
Steven Jobs and Steven Wozniak were a couple of blue-jeans-wearing kids from California, ages twenty-one and twenty-six. They weren't rich, they had absolutely no business training, and they were hoping to get started in an industry that barely existed at the time.
The year was 1976, before most people ever thought about buying computers for their homes. In those days the entire home-computer business added up to just a few brainy hobbyists, the original "computer nerds." So when Jobs and Wozniak scraped together thirteen hundred dollars by selling a van and two calculators and opened Apple Computer, Inc., in Job's garage, the