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6 Hacks Leaders & CEOs Use to Achieve Success

Winston Churchill Rolling

Studying the biographies of great leaders is often an intimidating experience. As you skim the resumes of your favorite business heroes and read the obituaries of your much-loved political leader you think to yourself, “That can never be me.”

But that’s far from the truth. Most leaders had a pretty harrowing journey to the top and wouldn’t have achieved their success without relying on pragmatic, micro-skills that anybody can learn.

Follows are a few specific skills used by history’s greatest leaders that anyone can master:

1. Don’t let the judgment of others get in your way

Henry Ford was described by those who knew him as a “rather shiftless farmboy-turned mechanic who, at the age of thirty, was spending most of nights tinkering in a back room or laughing and joking with boys.”

Not high praise.

More damning was Henry’s father. One observer wrote, “I could see that old Mr. Ford was ashamed of a grown-up man like Henry fussing over a little thing like a quadricycle.”

Henry knew that his father didn’t approve and was “heartbroken”  about it. However, that didn’t stop him from fussing with his “quadricycle.”

Leaders need to dismiss criticisms. The path to success is often stop-and-go due to naysayers and doubters. Focus and persistence pays off.

2. Talk to everyone

Sam Walton writes in his biography, “In college…I would always speak to the person coming towards me. If I knew them, I would call them by name, but even if I didn’t I would still speak them.”

This positive, happy-go-lucky attitude made him recognizable to everyone on campus. Sure, he might of made some people think twice about his over-eagerness, but at least they knew who he was.

Walton’s talk-to-everyone policy paid off. “I was elected president of the senior men’s honor society,” Walton writes, “and officer in my fraternity, and president of the senior class.”

Like Walton, leaders should try to make it habit to talk to everyone they can. Some conversations may be unprofitable, but the conversational practice can help leaders earn respect from customers, loan officers, and clients.

3. Take every job seriously

In 1849 Andrew Carnegie became a telegraph messenger. By all accounts it was a dull, boring job.

However, Carnegie, unlike the droves of other young men who crowded the industry, didn’t think the gig was all that bad. He mastered the trade and got a raise. Over time he learned who each mover-and-shaker in Pittsburgh’s business community was since he helped send their messages via telegram.

Carnegie became so good at the art of telegraphing he could write down messages by ear rather than by studying sheets of transcribed Morse code.

When the Pennsylvania Railroad needed a new telegraph office manager—Carnegie, although young, was the only logical choice.

Carnegie was now on the ground floor of America’s fastest growing industry. He proved himself capable and, of course, the rest is history.

Leaders should handle all assignments, projects, and duties with respect and interest. A little application can go a long way.

4. It’s OK to be scared of risk

George Eastman didn’t quit his job at the Rochester Savings Bank when he started tinkering around with cameras, film, and dry plates. He stuck to his banking duties and only played with his camera equipment on the weekends and evenings. He may have remained at the bank longer while he experimented with his camera gear if it weren’t for the bank’s cruel management. They didn’t offer Eastman a promotion and instead gave it to a son of one of the bank managers. Furious, Eastman quit and started his small business, which grew into Eastman Kodak.

Eastman felt no rush to jump into business and didn’t enjoy the risks of entrepreneurship. He patiently developed products and inventions in his spare time and only started his own company only after being forced into unemployment.

Leaders need not be mavericks and renegades. They can wait it out for the right moment.

5. You don’t have to be a stick in the mud

Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, used humor to market his company, talk to his customers, and communicate with his staff.

Kelleher displayed his natural good humor when another company sued Southwest over a trademarked slogan. Kelleher took the legal battle into his own hands and challenged the CEO of the suing company to an arm-wrestling match. Kelleher won.

The relaxed, quirky atmosphere helped make Southwest a company people could relate to and trust. Kelleher’s easy ways and charm helped create an environment where it was fun to work.

But Kelleher was always the consummate professional. He comments, “What really adds up to professionalism is being very good at what you do in a very modest way.” Kelleher knew that he could have a good time just as long as the work got done.

Leaders don’t always need to be cold, reserved figures. They can be relatable and can enjoy a good time.

6. Burst the knowledge bubble

During WWII Prime Minister Winston Churchill failed to adequately defend Singapore, figuring that the minimal defenses stationed there were enough and that the Japanese forces in the Pacific theater wouldn’t dare attack what was considered an impregnable island.

However, Churchill and his staffers guessed wrong. Japanese forces descended on the island on Feb. 15th, 1942 and easily captured “60,000 Imperial troops in Singapore – 16,000 British, 14,000 Australian and 32,000 Indian soldiers.”  Not to mention resources and equipment.

Churchill accepted defeat and admitted he “ought to have known” about the danger. He asked four questions of his staff to figure out how he could have been so horribly informed. They were: “Why didn’t I know, why didn’t my advisers know, why wasn’t I told, why didn’t I ask?”

The disaster taught Churchill to be critical of what he knew and what he was told. Moreover, he forced himself to break out of his knowledge bubble by asking himself about his lack of inquisitiveness.  These invaluable questions help Churchill navigate the rest of the war with more conviction and confidence.

Individuals must actively break their knowledge bubble and make sure they are looking beyond what they are told. Leaders who look beyond what they are told and ask more probing, deeper questions will have a leg up on the competition.

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How to Fight

No one has said it better. Winston Churchill believed that the only way to get things done and move things forward was by working with allies. That means you have to get people on your side and keep them there.

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4 Mistakes Made By History’s Biggest Leaders

History’s greatest leaders have one thing in common. They were able to get things done. But sometimes they didn’t always do the right things. Leaders have the ability to move projects ahead, but they sometimes don’t have the experience or the expertise to evaluate and support the right ideas. In fact, some of the history’s favorite leaders made some pretty big mistakes.

Here are four mistakes that good leaders made:

1. Winston Churchill Charges Into Costly Turkish Fight: In 1911 Churchill was responsible for making the British navy more lean, efficient, and war-ready. On November 25th 1914, Churchill asked the British War Council to spearhead a naval campaign into Turkey in order to move German troops and supplies away from the Eastern and Western fronts. Churchill felt that British navy should enter the heavily fortified and dangerously mined Dardanelles strait and make their way toward Constantinople. The War Council was uneasy about the idea and ranking British admirals wanted to take more time to plan out the attack, but Churchill was persistent. He pressured Admiral Carden, a seasoned captain in the region, to draw up an attack plan which he then submitted to the War Council.

Churchill took the War Council’s indirect, half-hearted, and ultimately confusing non-committal reply as a resounding ‘yes’ and quickly ordered Admiral Carden and his small fleet into the strait. While the first attack was successful Admiral Carden and his men weren’t ready for an unexpectedly organized Turkish force and the strait’s huge collection of floating mines. Eventually, Admiral Carden fell ill and General Sir Ian Hamilton was appointed to lead a 70,000 strong military force into the region. After numerous failed campaigns, General Hamilton and the British navy were pulled out of the Dardanelles region by the War Council. The Dardanelles skirmishes led to over 200,000 British allied casualties. The Turkish forces lost nearly as many men, but the numbers are undocumented.

After the campaign Churchill was booted from the Admiralty and fell into a depression.

2. Mahatma Gandhi Signs Away Indian’s Lives in WWI: Gandhi, famous for his pacifism, wasn’t always peace’s biggest advocate. When the British Empire asked him to recruit Indian solders for World War I, citing his work recruitment work in the Boer War, he quickly agreed. Gandhi thought that that his actions and India’s support would warm Britain to the idea giving India more political autonomy. He was mistaken.

India received little thanks for the million plus troops they committed to the war other than 13,000 medals of bravery.  Over 45,000 Indian troops died in World War I. Sadly, Gandhi failed to negotiate any gain, compromise, or promise from Britain for the roughly 45,000 Indians who died abroad in the British Empire’s name. Gandhi signed away a lot for zero political gain.

3. George Washington Muddles Into a War: As Washington’s biographer, Joseph Ellis, states, “Instead of going to college, Washington went to war.” In April 1754 the Virgina House of Burgesses gave Washington command of a 300-man regiment with the orders to protect Ohio country settlers from encroaching French troops.  When Washington finally made it to the region his Indian ally, Tanacharison (Half-King), informed him that there was a 1,000 plus French army nearby. Washington, facing a dire situation, decided to hunker down in the bed of a valley and build what was to become Fort Necessity.

On May 27th Tanacharison informed Washington that there was a 32-member French delegation nearby. Tanacharison and Washington surround the delegation and they met violently. Ten died and 22 were made prisoners. It marked the first bloodshed of the French and Indian War. While Washington claimed responsibility for the deaths, it is more likely that Tanacharison executed the French commander while Washington helplessly observed.

Tensions rose and Washington’s weak and poorly equipped Fort Necessity was now a prime target for the looming  French force. Washington tried to make allies with the surrounding Indian population, but failed. They knew that Washington was backing a lost cause. When Fort Necessity was eventually attacked Washington suffered serious losses. The low-laying fort was an easy target for raised firing and the bad weather conditions made the fort a muddy puddle. Washington lost 100 men and the French lost 5.  Washington was forced to surrender and he had to sign a treaty that said the British were responsible for the “assassination” of the French regiment’s commander. While Washington argued he didn’t know what the treaty said, there was little else he could have done.

Washington poorly played his relations with the French and built a very necessary fort in the worst place possible.

4. Andrew Carnegie Listens to Henry Frick: In the summer of 1892 Andrew Carnegie was enjoying some rest at his Scottish castle as steel prices were plummeting. In order to make up for the losses Carnegie decided that steel workers at the Homestead plant, managed by Henry Frick, needed to take wage cuts.  Further, Carnegie and Frick agreed that they needed break up one of the country’s strongest unions, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in order to bring up their bottom line.

Carnegie told Frick that he was allowed to shut the plant down until the workers swallowed the pay cuts. He further told Frick, through a letter, “We…approve of anything you do…We are with you to the end.” What Carnegie didn’t expect was the end would turn bloody.

Frick built a fence around the factory and hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency, a well-armed group of muscle, to control the 3,800 Homestead workers. The groups clashed in the middle of the night and 3 ‘detectives’ and 9 workers died. The state militia  had to be called in to establish a cease fire.

Carnegie mistakenly allowed Henry Frick, the same man who was partly responsible for the Johnstown flood, to lead negotiations in a very fraught atmosphere.

Even though all these leaders made large mistakes that ended in bloodshed, drama, and defeat–they still all managed to rally their abilities and accomplish great things later in their careers. Mistakes happen, but as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

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Churchill: Leadership Into the Storm [Video]

young-winston-churchillWhen you draw a shortlist of “great” leaders, Winston Churchill always appears near the top. When you delve even further and ask people to give examples of historical figures who’ve dealt with crisis Churchill appears shoulder-to-shoulder with Lincoln.

The history of Churchill raises a whole series of leadership questions, especially around the question of contingent leadership. What type of leadership style is appropriate for what particular moment in history? A close examination of Churchill focuses us on such issues as drama and tactics and the skills of mobilization.

If you haven’t seen The Gathering Storm & Into the Storm, you missed two truly insightful depictions on the dynamics and style of an exceptional leader.

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Leadership Link Round-Up: June 29-July 3

Happy 4th of July everyone. Have a good weekend and enjoy the fine weather we’re sure to have.