During the course of my career I have had the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of leadership styles and have also adopted a style one of my own. After college, I was hired by Oscar Mayer into their Engineering Management Development Program. This six month program provided close exposure to a variety of executives and technical leaders from Kraft Foods and Oscar Mayer. As a rookie, what impressed me most was the Oscar Mayer methodology around creating repeatable training programs to transfer proprietary technical knowledge and leadership skills.
I still remember sitting in a conference room back in 1990, watching a filmstrip of Lou Holtz when he was coach of Notre Dame stating to his audience, “People want to know three things about you…can I trust you?...do you care about me?...and will you do what is right and excellent?” Those words had a profound impact on me, not just because of the truth that resonated inside me, but also because of the simple elegance of this leader’s statement.
During those formative six months, I was also exposed to a variety of foundational leadership concepts such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Pygmalion Effect. I loved the portability of concepts such as these, and began to make extensive use of the corporate audio book lending library as I traveled. During the next ten years, I had a variety of supervisory assignments, often leading crews of technicians twice my age and managing large capital projects. It was during this period that I learned how that leaders who were successful at project execution were the ones who were able to tap into more funding and attract the best talent.
After rising as far as I would be able to on the technical leadership ladder at Kraft Foods, I decided to take an entrepreneurial plunge and joined a healthcare informatics start-up company as the VP of Operations and HIPAA Privacy & Security Officer. Over the next decade, I was able to experiment with and apply many of the leadership principles from the various leadership books I had devoured. This included authors such as Tom Peters, Ken Blanchard, John Maxwell, and Seth Godin, among many others.
Another person who has influenced me is John Wooden, the much loved coach who was as well known for his maxims as his winning record. Like Wooden, I have collected, curated, and internalized the maxims that I have decided will influence my leadership style and will enable me to convey powerful truths like Lou Holtz did in the quote above.
So far, I have discussed the factors that have shaped my aspirational leadership qualities of influence, idea leadership, and execution. There are two more qualities that need to be discussed to understand my leadership style more fully—passion and honor. I will do so with a favorite quotation for each.
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” – Vince Lombardi
I have met those who devalue the importance of passion or simply do not understand mine. However, the people I associate with most are those who love to exchange ideas, are excited about their work, and infect others with that passion. Perhaps some do not show passion for fear of being considered a dilettante or a naive rookie. However, I have a different take. It is one I learned en route to attaining a black belt:
Despite my many years of martial arts study, I recognized how little I really know compared with true masters of the arts. Only by constantly exposing myself to someone better than I have I been able to improve. It is inspiring to know that even the masters have masters, and that we are all learners. (Hyams)
Tom Peters said, “Do cool shit every day or die trying.” I want to commit to the excellence that Lombardi inspires and I want to do it with the passion and the panache of my literary mentors, honoring their contributions by stretching and extending their ideas, leading and challenging others who are with me on this journey.
Hyams, J. (1979). Zen in the Martial Arts. New York: Bantam Books.
Peters, T. (1999). The Brand You 50. New York: Random House.
Wooden, J., & Jamison, S. (2007). The Essential Wooden. New York: McGraw-Hill.