Wisdom from an Exceptional Leader

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Would the principles that make one an effective, successful and happy individual create those same results for a company, and for society as a whole? In this absolutely terrific book on leadership, the author says yes, indeed they would.

The following is from John A. Allison’s introduction to, The Leadership Crisis And The Free Market Cure:

“There is a set of ethical principles that is consistent with the laws of nature and the nature of humans that is the foundation for individual success and happiness. These same principles are applicable to organizations and to society.”

“The ultimate goal in life is to achieve happiness {in terms of} a life well- lived.” … “In this overall context, this is a book about leadership in the pursuit of happiness, at the individual, organization, and societal level.

“The foundation for this concept is self-leadership, which is essential for organizational leadership. Most failures of leadership are failures of self-leadership. And, most organizational failures are caused by failed leadership.”

It’s safe to say Mr. Allison knows from whence he speaks. The prestigious Harvard Business Review named him one of the decades top 100 most successful CEOs.

More importantly, for 20 years he served as Chairman and CEO of BB&T, one of the largest financial institutions in America, growing the bank from $4.5 billion to $152 billion in assets during his tenure. And, they were hugely successful during a time when many banks failed spectacularly.

But, perhaps the banks’s huge profits came as a result of cronyism and sub-prime loans?

Actually, no. BB&T was one of the few banks not involved in sub-prime lending, writing only conventional mortgages. Mr. Allison was very outspoken against sub-prime lending, as well as cronyism in all its forms, including that between Washington, D.C. and many of the major banks.

When the bubble burst and banks were going under, he and his bank were left standing tall; not only in reputation…but in profitability, as well.

How was this accomplished? Through rational, long-term thinking combined with a desire to provide exceptional value to customers, employees and shareholders alike.

And…by acting from a base of uncompromising values.

Most recently CEO of the highly-regarded libertarian think tank, Cato Institute, Allison approaches life and leadership from a very practical, logical, and rational viewpoint. He also approaches his relationships with employees and customers with an extremely benevolent, win/win mindset (as he referred to it, “getting better together”) always at the forefront.

Like the vast majority of ultra-successful people I’ve known and in this case, studied (I’ve been a fan for quite a while), he understands happiness is the ultimate goal; financial success is just one aspect of overall success and happiness. And, all leadership begins with self-leadership; mastering ourselves and our character traits.

Two Distinct, But Integrated Parts

Part One, “Values in the Pursuit of Happiness” includes a chapter on each value he deems vital and necessary to one’s successful pursuit of happiness. They were also the principles he used to lead at the bank.

They include being Reality Grounded, Reason (Objectivity), Independent Thinking, Productivity (Profitability), Honesty, Integrity, Justice, Pride, Self-Esteem (Self-Motivation) and Teamwork (Mutual Supportiveness).

According to the author, “Not only are these values not contradictory but they are integrated. Failure to execute on one value will make it impossible for you to execute on another value.”

Part Two, “Leading for Personal, Organization, and Societal Greatness” is really a Masters Degree in business leadership. That it’s told from the personal experiences of a man who has been there, done that very successfully, and is willing to share exactly how, is truly a gift. Absolutely fascinating and enlightening.

While again, logic and reason are very important to the author, his writing is warm and thoughtful, and he certainly understands the dynamics of emotion and human nature; that most people make decisions based on their emotions being in control. Yet, as he says, “Emotions are not a valid means of knowledge

So, how does he suggest we don’t make counterproductive decisions based on this fact?

“The goal should be to train your emotions so they automatically support the conclusions that your rational mind determined.”

Powerful!

One of my favorite points had to do with the importance of understanding the relationship of value and money, and that a business only makes money to the degree they focus on bringing value to their customers. I loved this gem:

“In the 1960’s, the CEO of General Motors announced that the mission of GM was to ‘make money.’ Shortly thereafter GM’s earnings started to decline. GM was created to make cars in a variety of price ranges and quality categories. Its real purpose is to make ‘good’ cars, and when it does this very well, it gets to make money. At BB&T our real purpose is to help our clients be financially successful and economically secure, and when we do this well, we can make money for our shareholders.”

He also warns about what he calls the “ultimate psychological sin of evasion.” This occurs when we choose not to explore what we know we should explore because we are afraid the information will not concur with our already-established views. Evasion has a dramatically negative impact on one’s happiness, as well as the success of a business or a society.

The author is very firm regarding the importance of staying focused on truth. He says, “When we evade, we are detached from reality and cannot learn or grow.” True both for individuals and for businesses. And, for society? He asks, “Do our political leaders make decisions based on reality?”

The pages of my copy of the book are filled with notes and underlines as well as starred and bracketed sentences and paragraphs. I simply cannot do this book justice in a single post. Let me suggest — if I may — that you purchase this book, read it, study it, and then buy it as a gift for all the leaders and potential leaders in your life.

There are a lot of excellent leadership books on the market and I’ve benefited from reading many of them. This one might just be the most important one yet!

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