From the Playbook: Watch and Listen

 

 

 

 

If you made a list of people to learn from – who would you identify and why?

Besides formal education and experience, observing others can be a huge part of learning. Seasoned author and editor John Byrne (Business Week, Fast Company and Fortune) turned his list of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs into a fascinating book, WorldChangers. His criteria included social and economic impact, world-changing vision, inspirational power, innovation and enterprise performance.

Whether social or business outcomes are your aim, there are some terrific lessons in the profiles Byrne provides. From Byrne’s full list, I’ve picked a few people and their key contributions:

To innovate, Steve Jobs (at Apple) did not use focus groups and market research. He didn’t bother to ask consumers. Instead, he led a company that delivered what consumers wanted, “insanely great” products.

To usher in the personal computer revolution and tackle social challenges, Bill Gates (at Microsoft & his Foundation) is very careful about selecting his staff, business partners, and allies.

To extend logistics and customer reach, Fred Smith (at FedEx) applied his VietNam Marine Corp experiences to integrate operations and ensure proximal support in delivery systems.

To drive new ways for people to purchase goods, Jeff Bezos (at Amazon) quit a good job to launch an e-commerce effort that he is managing for growth and customer service instead of profit, intentionally.

To revive a failing brand, after an 8-year absence, Howard Schultz (at Starbucks) restored financial discipline and focus to a company that had become irrelevant to consumers.

My interpretation of these exemplars identifies important principles for success in managing and leading. In relative order, here’s what I learned:

(1) Deliver what’s needed, it assures  sustainability. (Jobs)

(2) Pick great people (and partners), they matter more than anything else. (Gates)

(3) Get close recon from trusted sources, precise knowledge of context before action is vital. Discard gossip. (Smith)

(4) Take risk and time for retreat, grounded and clear thinking is vital in a complex, highly dynamic workplace. (Bezos)

(5) Consistently challenge, pursue a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. (Schultz)

I emphasized the Gates lesson  because if you don’t get that right –the others have far less influence. These potent messages have the promise to deliver great returns for organizations, big and small.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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