CEO, Starwave Corp.
I've worked for three people in my career — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Paul Allen — and I've learned a lot from each of them about leading and competing. For example, I'm continually amazed at how naive most businesspeople are about their competition. I subscribe fully to the Bill Gates-Andy Grove School of Paranoia: You should know your competitors and their products inside-out.
And don't limit your definition of the competition. Think outside the box! The conventional boundaries that separate industries mean less and less; develop your peripheral vision to scope out latent competitors. You want to be sure to see them first. Then you need to pick apart their products and state eloquently why yours is totally superior. Chances are the competition is too busy solving internal problems to pay as much attention to these shortcomings as you can. That's your opportunity to get a leg up.
You can build a better mousetrap!
Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa
Given the right circumstances, from no more than dreams, determination, and the liberty to try, ordinary people consistently do extraordinary things. To lead is to create those circumstances, then go before and show the way.
Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time leading yourself — your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers. If you don't understand that you work for your mislabeled "subordinates," then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.
Marilyn Moats Kennedy
Managing Partner, Career Strategies
Leaders can't succeed if they care more about how people feel than how they perform. So focus on output, not on attitude. Employees who get results should be taken at face value. Sincerity and competence rarely share a soul. Reward the latter and forget the former.
President and CEO, Verifone Inc.
Redwood City, California
The first principle of leadership is authenticity: "Watch what I do, not what I say." If you want your company to exude a sense of urgency and a drive to get things done, then act that way on a daily basis. If you want your people to put the needs of the customer first, then do that too — in every situation. If you want your people to be frugal, then don't spend money on perks designed to make your life more comfortable.
Leadership requires moral authority. You can't have moral authority if you behave differently from your people.
Chairman, St. Luke's
The essence of work is teamwork. And yet think back: When was the last time you worked together truly in a team? In your job? Your marriage? A team at school? Or with a friend, lost in play?
The fact is, the notion of "working together" is difficult to define. If you're told to work together, does that mean you're genuinely working together? If you don't benefit together, are you really working together? Despite space age technology, our work practices still owe more to 19th century hierarchies than to 21st century visions.
So here's my handy tip for CEOs who want their enterprises to benefit from working together: Start small and emphasize an interdisciplinary approach. Let teams set their own goals for success. Try to gather everyone around the table as equals. And allow them to think in free-form about their problems and goals. There's no rule that determines who has the greatest ability to contribute. Finally, reward teams with money, time, and happiness — in equal measure.
Make work play.
Chair and CEO, Merix Corporation
Forest Grove, Oregon
CEOs are always searching for vision, and I'm no different. But I've come to appreciate the value of bifocals — the kind that let me move from a close-up view of Merix to one farther away, and then back again. I try to wear my corporate bifocals regularly, alternating my view so I can get a better look of where we are as an organization and where we're going.
Sometimes what you see depends on how you look.
Chairman, Perot Systems
Learn the difference between direct and indirect leadership — and then apply it to yourself. Most companies are still dominated by numbers, information, and analysis. That makes it much harder to tap into intuition, feelings, and oblique thinking — the skills that leaders will need to succeed in the future.
Which of these two messages do you think motivates a team more effectively? Case 1: "Here is this year's profit-and-loss objective. If we make our numbers, you will get your bonus at the end of the year, with stock-option vesting in three years. Oh by the way, we believe people are our most important asset." Case 2: "Here is our philosophy: Take care of your customer. Take care of your fellow team members. Then tangible results will follow."
I think the answer is obvious. The first approach will work well in the short term — but the team will not feel better for having done it. The second approach is sustainable, can be scaled up to include large numbers of people, and the team will feel better about its performance. If you work with the whole person, and their whole mind, you will reach a better place — for them and the company.
Director, Global Leadership Program
University of Michigan Business School
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The most important job for a leader who wants to win in the 21st century is to create more leaders, at more levels of your company, than the competition. This is a job that's too important to outsource: leaders with a proven track record of success — rather than professors or consultants — are the ones to develop more leaders.
It takes a "teachable point of view," a teaching method that enables you to make your tacit knowledge explicit. You'll need three things: your own ideas, deeply held values, and a way to energize the emotions of your people. The ideas come first — how do you combine changes in the external environment, people, capital, information, and technology to succeed? Then you need to state the values that you want to build into your organization to support these ideas. Finally, you need to create positive emotional energy — not by cheerleading a vague set of abstractions, but by energizing your people around clear expressions of your ideas and values.
You don't have to be a world-class orator to be a world-class leader. What really counts is the sincerity of your message.
President and COO, LifeUSA Holding, Inc.
I find it amusing and frustrating — and often quite appalling — how few business leaders recognize that people should share in the value they create. At LifeUSA, our employees have options on nearly 2 million shares of company stock. It seems like common sense to us. So why is it still so uncommon in most companies?
Sharing the wealth creates a vested interest for everyone to succeed. It's a powerful mechanism for accountability. And it encourages people to innovate and provide unbeatable service.
Nobody wins unless everybody wins.
Chairman and CEO, Physician Sales & Service
Real leaders set goals that are ambitious and simple. If you want to develop an effective mission for your company, keep it to one sentence — literally.
Over the last 15 years, we've had three different mission statements at PSS. In 1988, we vowed "to be the first national physician supply company." We achieved that goal in 1994. In 1994, we vowed "to do a billion dollars in sales by the year 2000." We expect to achieve that goal by 1998. Last year we vowed "to be the first worldwide distributor of health-care products."
We're not sure when we'll achieve that. But we will.
WindEagle and RainbowHawk
Los Gatos, California
The Old Chiefs said that leading in the Way of the Council meant encouraging each person to step forward and share their gifts for all the people. The chiefs listened deeply and saw to it that all perspectives were shared in the Council with respect and honor.
To be an inspirational leader, you must awaken values, awaken your people's remembrance of their power to create, and call your people to be their best. To do this, you will need a true mind of sincerity, benevolence, strictness, wisdom, and courage.
Leaders today, like the Old Chiefs, need to teach by example, get all the people involved, gather all perspectives, and create an organic whole. We need a better way to draw forth the energies of all the people. People don't want autocratic regimes. They want wholeness, participation, balance.
Vice President, Research & Education
Cambridge Technology Partners
The most precious asset in the cosmos is time, because it is absolutely irreplaceable. The fastest way to become better at your job and in your life is to spend your time more effectively. Learn how to "design for time." That means:
- Don't be afraid to spend money if it lets you go faster. You can always make more money; you can't manufacture more time.
- Create performance objectives — for yourself, your team, your company — that focus on speed, not budgets or headcount. "Time boxing" deliverables keeps everyone focused on what matters.
- Audit how you spend your time. If people are wasting your time, get rid of them. If you keep getting information that's not worth your time, "bozo filter" it away.
Founder and Publisher, Currency/Doubleday
New York, New York
These days, whenever I feel my teeth beginning to grind or my blood beginning to boil, I no longer count to 10. Instead I do what I advise every woman to do: ask for everything.
This is particularly important for women who've never learned how to ask for anything, much less everything. If you want a promotion, ask to be on the board. If you want Fridays off, ask for an employment contract. If someone's being mean to you, ask them to do something for you.
Those you ask are invariably impressed — or else so stopped by your moxie that they don't know what to do. Their submission juices kick in instantly. And even if you get half of what you ask for, you're still way ahead of the game. And way ahead of the negotiators, compromisers, and most everyone else in the corporate world who's gotten where they are because they've learned how to say "yes"!
Use that get-along corporate spirit for yourself.
Author, "After Thought: The Computer Challenge to Human Intelligence"
Take an art course from a serious practicing artist. Not to spiff up your home page, but to experience a different way of processing information. Artists process the world all-at-once, not one step at a time as the Industrial Age taught the rest of us to do.
Numbers, equations, and sequential thought are the wrong tools for the realities of the Information Age, where parallel realms, from the Internet to business ecologies, demand new styles of thinking.
Partner, Organization Practice, McKinsey & Co.
New York, New York
At least once a week forget your own "fast company" and become a "slow person." As the pace of change quickens and everything becomes more complex, appreciate that innovation depends as much on reflection and breadth of mental experience as on "ready, fire, aim."
Find something that renews your business thinking. I'm not talking about a weekend retreat with coworkers, a corporate "outward bound" adventure, or a group-grope to "get in touch with yourself."
Instead, find a way to engage in serious intellectual reflection that exercises your mind with new and different approaches. Some of my most energizing insights about today's organizations have come from a political philosophy reading group I joined. Plato, Thucydides, John Rawls, and John Dewey have lots to say about today's "postmodern" organizational dilemmas.
Your goal should be to find a safe but challenging mental playground. Then let your familiar ideas and perceptions crash against and mingle with a new set of texts and conversation partners.
And remember: speed of learning — the new competitive advantage — is not always the same as speed of doing.
Curtis Mathes Fellowship Professor
Graduate School of Business, University of Texas
I was involved in the Last Big Thing — reengineering — so people constantly ask me what I think the Next Big Thing will be. Knowledge management, the field I'm now working in, shows all the tell-tale signs. This is good for me. But I'm warning you, in advance, that it's bad for the world.
My advice: instead of desperately seeking the next management hype-o-rama, go back to the eternal verities of business. Better yet, next time you're in a bookstore, buy a novel instead of the latest hot business tome. And put down this fine business magazine — just for a moment — and call a customer, a competitor, or a colleague and ask them what's going on.
Program Director, Career Action Center
Your career is only as healthy as your learning curve. If you're not developing new skills in your current job, then you're jeopardizing your long-term employability.
To keep moving forward, embrace two personal disciplines. First, regularly benchmark your skills against the standards of excellence in your field. Technical people understand how quickly what they learn in the classroom gets obsoleted by developments in the real world. What goes for engineers and software developers goes for everyone. Find people who are leaders in your field and stay abreast of what they know and how they work. And keep your eye on young people, a great source of unexpected insights.
Second, develop a personal learning plan. If you're serious about benchmarking, you'll discover gaps in your skill set. The only way to close those gaps is to set goals for learning. Maybe it's, "I will start a course in C++ programming by the end of this month." Or, "I'm going to learn how to use PowerPoint so I can create my own slides." Smart goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.
Finally, never turn down a request for an informational interview. It's amazing what you can learn from people who want to learn from you.
Chairman, GeoPartners Research, Inc.
Reflect on the network of people you rely on to make yourself a more effective person. There are at least four dimensions of leadership and growth for which you need support. "Kitchen cabinet" members help you formulate hunches into ideas, and keep you honest. "Analytics" test and develop your ideas into fact-based, well-reasoned plans. "Agents" take action on your behalf. And "confidants" help you make tough choices.
Are you well staffed in each dimension? Do you need to recruit a few choice people into your inner circle? Who might make a real difference to your leadership effectiveness? Now schedule lunch with that person right away!
Director, Department of the Future
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The biggest change in business today has nothing to do with reengineering or reorganizing. The biggest change is the consumer. Chalk it up to Vietnam, the fall of communism, ethnic cleansing, scandals in politics, sports, and the professions. The consumer is more anxious and cynical than ever before. Consumers worry about their country, their schools, their jobs. They don't know where to find the answers to big questions — How should I raise my child? — or to small questions — Which brand of soup should I buy?
This, it turns out, is both a challenge and opportunity for marketers. Companies are bombing consumers with information. Here are three ideas to help you drop smart bombs.
First, brands matter: People are looking for something to hold onto, not just generic products they can buy. A sense of tradition matters: Even as they embrace new technologies, consumers have grown nostalgic for the innocence and pretechnological simplicity of their childhoods. Systems thinking matters: Consumers want to limit their impact on the environment and at the same limit its impact on them. Ultimately, communicating about the future is about creating a vision of a time and place where things may be better, or at least "reinvented."
Senior Vice President, Global Marketing
North Sioux City, South Dakota
A friend of mine recently took her 86-year-old mother on her first airplane trip. During the flight, the pilot invited her to see the cockpit. My friend's mother leaned over and asked, "Darlin', what's a cockpit?"
This moment brought joy to everyone on that plane who heard it. And it's a precious example of my hardheaded advice: If you want to change your company, change how it relates to customers. Specifically, understand that the aesthetic experience people have with products and services are just as important as conventional measures of quality and performance.
Customers believe that companies are corrupt, unresponsive, and unavailable — even if they make reasonably good products. That's a reality that few executives are willing to admit. You need to build a communications pipeline that surfaces good and bad stories from customers so that every day, how people talk about the company on the inside is informed by what people are saying on the outside. And every executive needs to talk to a few customers (of the most ordinary kind) every day to understand how they're feeling and what they're thinking.
When we launch a new product, we identify a collection of early adopters and christen them "pioneers." We talk to them. We find out what's working and not working.
As we discover bugs and fix them in subsequent revisions, we go back to our pioneers and upgrade their machines for free. The effect is a sustained dialogue that benefits both sides. For pioneers, it guarantees they will have a pleasurable experience. For us, it allows our engineers to track what people actually do with the things we build.
And it creates positive energy from the sheer pleasure of having made a difference in the lives of real people.
President, Hammer and Company
The single most important thing you can do to help your company thrive in the modern era of tough customers, intense competition, and relentless change is this: Help every single person in the company understand the business in the same big-picture terms that the CEO does. Everyone needs to understand the economics of the company and its industry, its strategy and cost structure, its processes, products, and competitors.
You can do that step by step. Start by developing a process map of the company's business that shows how value is created and where costs are incurred. Make sure everyone knows who the customers are and what they need. Share an appreciation of industry themes and the company's strategic direction.
People need this understanding, not for academic reasons, but because it will lead to changed behaviors — to the kinds of customer-focused, team-oriented, results-seeking, and self-starting behaviors that are the ultimate source of modern business success.
Professor, Harvard Business School
People leading others through the process of change should always beware the trap of rationality. Just because something is "right" analytically doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. The harder you push to implement a "right" solution that people don't believe in, the more likely it will become the wrong solution. Think through your company's politics and culture and culture before you move forward.
Vice President, Levi Strauss & Co.
San Francisco, California
When it comes to leading change, Pogo was right: "We've met the enemy and he is us." I'm talking about the deeply held beliefs and strong emotional ties that act as filters on the real world and prevent us from seeing new opportunities and possibilities.
Change agents often see the filters in other people but fail to recognize their own. Those of us in the business of transformation have to be particularly sensitive to our own defense mechanisms. When people resist what we consider an obviously compelling plan, we need to read between the lines and "discuss the undiscussable."
Sure, we have to paint a persuasive picture of the future. But we also have to hone our listening skills and be as open to new ways of thinking as we want our colleagues to be.
To change your company's future, change how people think about the future. We recently organized a project for a major packaged-goods company. This company wanted to develop a new plan for its household-cleaner business. I said, "rather than do a 5-year plan, why don't we do a 500-year plan? Let's get a diverse group of people together and ask ourselves how this business — and the world — will be different in the year 2500."
It was a pretty remarkable group: a cultural anthropologist; the person who runs the alternative-medicine initiative for the U.S. government; the marketing director of a major interior-design magazine; a professor of creativity from the Harvard Business School. These folks generated a collection of ideas that filtered down into the company's ranks and changed people's perspective. We didn't create a 500-year plan, but did create a disturbance.
President, Doblin Group
All you have to do is squint at any major industry today and you can see how much it has been transformed by the Net. Not just the Internet, but Nets of physical distribution, sales and promotion, communication, and more.
Banking has become a decentralized network of digital investment management and commerce; medicine has evolved into an endless web or referrals, treatment, and payments.
But few of us truly understand how Nets amplify and distort our everyday lives. We learn differently today. We also work, play, and shop differently.
If you want to develop breakthrough products and services, you're going to need to devote substantial material and intellectual resources to understanding how Nets are reshaping their company or industry.
Things have gotten pretty weird pretty fast. It pays to figure out what's happening.
Change Architect, Siemens Nixdorf Information Systems.
North Hampton, New Hampshire
Making change is all about achieving dynamic balance along several dimensions. Most change leaders focus on only one dimension: top-down versus bottom-up, thinking versus doing, multiple efforts versus a single-focused activity. They get caught asking which dimension is better — but that's the wrong question.
Making change means both leading and empowering others; developing ideas and implementing actions; creating enough activity to achieve a critical mass and staying focused so the program doesn't burn out. A change leader needs to handle both sides of a dynamic tension. It's like breathing in and breathing out. Would you ask which one is better?
Robert H. Buckman
Vice Chairman, Buckman Laboratories International
If you want to change your company, radically increase the span of communication for each individual. Let each person use a computer to communicate with anybody in the company — or anywhere else in the world — without any barriers, real or imagined.
When you change a person's span of communication, you also change their span of influence — you expand their power. The more you allow each person to grow in terms of information and power, the more you grow the entire organization.
Want to invent more killer ideas? Then read like crazy and write down what you learn.
I read 2,000 pages a week — every week — from books and magazines. For too long, though, I'd have an idea, forget to write it down, and — poof! — it was gone. So a year ago, I created a spreadsheet file in Lotus 1-2-3. Now as I read my books or magazines, I write down what I've learned. Then, whenever I'm exploring a new product, I scroll through this spreadsheet. It's like rubbing an idea against a magic lamp — and it has proven unbelievably effective.
Recently I added a new column to my spreadsheet. I grade every magazine I read, and calculate a new GPA once a quarter. It helps me figure out where I should be focusing my time.
Learning Person, Xerox Business Services
Rochester, New York
For all the talk about learning, what I've noticed is how few organizations really think about how people learn. My advice is, figure out what kinds of learners make up your organization, and immediately begin to modify the training, meetings, and workshops you offer to acknowledge different learning styles. Teach the way people learn; don't make them learn the way you teach.
In our organization, for example, 50% of our people are action Learners — these are people who learn by doing. Another 33% are "people learners" — they learn best through conversation and exchanging ideas with others. Only 17% are "information learners" — people who read texts, listen to lectures, and learn through the traditional school experience.
What's wrong with this picture? The problem is we keep designing learning programs that only work for 17% of the people in most organizations. It may be hard to quantify the benefits of learning —but it's easy to measure the money that's wasted on training programs that work only for a fraction of the organization.
So if you want people to learn, start by learning how they learn.
Richard Saul Wurman
Newport, Rhode Island
America's contribution to the 21st century will be the technotainment industry — a bifurcated business comprised of the entertainment industry and technology on one side, and the learning business and technology on the other. As they merge, a worldwide learning revolution will occur. While our traditional educational system atrophies, new parallel systems of learning will spring from the emergence of technotainment.
So do what everyone agrees is bad for you: Watch a lot of television. Watch the Discovery Channel and in just one night you'll learn more than you learned in five years of school. Smart television — that's a cross between television and the Internet, knows what you're watching, can lead you to other related programs, and has thousands of channels — will be good for you.
Learning today goes way beyond the surface of knowledge and understanding. It goes beyond the realm of reason and tangibility. Learning today embraces the adventure of action and reaction.
Let's say you want to learn more about the writings of business strategist Margaret Wheatley. In the eyes of yesterday's scholar, you should read all her books. Then you will have accomplished "learning." But in today's world, learning is an ongoing, interactive, integrated process, not a one-step solution. If you want to learn today, first read all of Margaret Wheatley's books. Be sure that you understand the concepts. Then call Ms. Wheatley. Invite her to lunch. Pick her brain. Challenge her ideas. Then write your own book.
And always remember that you have more to learn.
John Seely Brown
Vice President and Chief Scientist, Xerox Corporation
Palo Alto, California
Learning is important, for both people and organizations. But the real challenge today is unlearning, which is much harder. Each of us has a "mental model" that we've used over the years to make sense of the world. But the new world of business — built on digital technologies and increasing-returns economics — behaves differently from the world in which we grew up. Before any of us can learn new things, we have to make our current assumptions explicit and find ways to challenge them.
This is no academic exercise, and it doesn't come naturally. The harder you fight to hold onto specific assumptions, the more likely there's gold in letting go of them. Step back, reflect — and listen!
Director of Research and Development, Steelcase
Grand Rapids, Michigan
To overcome the productivity paradox — the discrepancy between all the money they spend on information technology and the amount their actual productivity improves. The key is learning the four principles of effective collaborative work and learning.
First, don't use workstations and conference rooms as the way you allocate space. Instead, think of a home base and project clusters. Second, don't make your meetings linear and sequential. Interactions need to be concurrent and ongoing. Third, don't erase your whiteboards after each meeting. "Information persistence" helps learning continue before and after formal meetings. Fourth, don't keep people chained to one area or one function. You need mobile people acting as Marco Polos, carrying ideas across different communities of practice.
A version of this article appeared in the Feb/Mar 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.