Visionary Leaders Try Things that Others Don’t See

[It is my pleasure to once again bring you guest blogger, James Allan. Enjoy this post below! -Seth Kahan]


[It is my pleasure to once again bring you guest blogger, James Allan. Enjoy this post below! -Seth Kahan]


How are visionary leaders created?  What does it take for a person to create, enhance and
maintain a successful global business that continues to innovate and expand?

To answer these questions, I spoke recently with Isadore

Mr. Sharp worked from dawn to dusk in the construction
industry in Toronto, and then drifted into the hotel industry in 1961, at the
age of 30.  Since then, he has
spent the last 49 years doing what most entrepreneurs can only dream of.  He created a luxury mid-size hotel
brand named the Four Seasons, took it public, and then expanded its reach to
the most exotic and popular business and tourist destinations in the world.  All the while, he made it profitable.

He outlined his journey
in his auto-biography, aptly named Four Seasons.  Some of his enduring innovations
include shampoo, full-sized bath towels and bathrobes in every hotel room.  He also created a company-wide respect
for employees at all levels which did not previously exist.  This philosophy, entitled “The Golden
Rule”, has reached every end of the Earth since it applies universally accepted
principles.  His enduring respect
for people, both customers and employees, has continually fortified his brand
as the mid-size luxury hotel of choice. 
When Oprah Winfrey asked Julia Roberts what’s the best thing she’s ever
slept on, she replied “A bed at the Four Seasons.”


So what did he tell me the foundations of his success are?

  1. You’ve
    got to be able to judge opportunity
    :  When asked if he was better at judging people or
    property, he quickly replied, “I’m best at judging opportunity.  Each individual has their own
    strengths.  Engineers and
    scientists saw the opportunity for space travel, and they acted on
    it.  My success has come from
    judging opportunity in the luxury hotel industry and acting on it.”  He later added, “People in poor
    countries like India are born into abject poverty and can’t get out
    because they don’t get the opportunity.  We are fortunate to live in North America where
    opportunity is plentiful.”
  2. Try
    things that other people don’t see
    :  He flat out ignored the experts, even his own, when
    they told him the luxury hotel market in London was over-saturated.  When deep in debt in the 1980
    recession, and interest rates were peaking, he asked to borrow more
    money.  When investors were
    plentiful and the brand was strong, he intentionally slowed his company’s
    growth.  Why? “Opinions are
    expressed based on past fact. Ask yourself, ‘What is the future?’  I like trying things that other
    people don’t see. You see the risks. You know there will be a possible
    penalty to pay.  As long as
    it’s not destructive, follow your ‘subconscious belief’ – it’s a fanatical
    belief – that what you’re doing will work.” 
  3. Upbringing
    is important
    :  He
    contributed much of his extreme self-confidence to his upbringing.  “I think how you’re brought up can
    help a lot.  You should be
    allowed to make mistakes, and get on the learning curve.  It’s good when you get the support
    you need, and sometimes it’s an Invisible Hand.”  According to his book, he did not have doting
    parents.  They encouraged him
    to be independent as early as the age of 6, when he would have to find his
    own way to school.
  4. Participate
    in Team Sports
    “Participating in team sports showed me the desire to try your
    best, even if you didn’t always win. 
    You could decide to run your fastest, and you still might not
    win.  That sort of attitude
    encouraged me to not have a fear of failure.”
  5. Follow
    your Passions of the Moment
    : “We all really do know what our skills
    are, and what we are gifted at. 
    You’ve got to follow your passion of the moment (passions change
    over time).  Let the passions
    be your guide, and let your skills direct what you want to do.  Don’t try to become someone who
    you are not…Don’t try to plan your life, rather take opportunities as they
    arise.  We all have capacity
    to do more.  Look for the opportunities
    that allow you to do that.
  6. Never
    Compromise your values
    The current recession has affected the luxury hotel market, but Mr.
    Sharp has seen it all before. “In these times, don’t change what you’re
    doing.  You have to adapt to
    the circumstances, but don’t change your values.  Stick to the priorities you want to preserve.  The recession will be over soon,
    and you want people to know who you are and what you stand for.  At the Four Seasons, we use the
    term ‘control without compromise’. 
    We have to adapt to the recession, but we are not going to cut
    things which may compromise our values.”

Sources:  « James Allan interviews Isadore
Sharp »

About the author  James Allan is President of SHM
Consulting, a firm devoted to improving human and organizational
performance.  Clients include Cisco
Systems, Costco Wholesale, TD Ameritrade and the Montreal Canadiens. Visit his
website at

About the author

I help leaders with change, innovation, and growth. My latest book is "Getting Innovation Right." My first book, "Getting Change Right," was a business bestseller. home office: (301) 229-2221, USA - email: