Great leaders make everyone around them better

Thomas Friedman, the award winning author (“The World is Flat” and “That Used to be Us”), made an important observation in an interview with Charlie Rose. A great leader makes everyone around them better – think Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky or, if you are older, Bill Russell. Donald Trump makes everyone around him worse.

This is a powerful observation. Defending this immoral man requires his people to go to a bad place in their nature. They must lower themselves and lie like he does. General Kelly harmed his reputation by lying about a Congresswoman. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders is not worth listening to as she defends the indefensible with inconsistent and nonsensical statements.

Trump values loyalty over competence, so the tendency to become a sycophant is rewarded. While he does have some competent people, they are fewer in number and the depth of talent is not as much as needed. Many experienced people could have helped him, but they either did not pass the loyalty test or chose not to work with such a narcissistic man. His team is not deep and they are very distracted trying to keep Trump between the white lines, so they cannot focus on global trends, issues and strategy.

On the flip side, I think of great leaders like Paul O’Neill, who turned around Alcoa by opening communication channels which improved productivity and safety. I think about my former boss whose mantra was hire good people and have them go see our clients. He kept senior leadership off your back and empowered you to work with others to serve.

Let me close with a story about Bill Russell, the NBA Hall of Famer with the Boston Celtics. He did all the heavy lifting (rebounding, defense, passing, blocked shots) letting his teammates do most of the scoring. His Celtics won eleven championships, his college team won two NCAA championships and he was on a Gold Medal Olympic team.

Great leaders make everyone around them better.

23 thoughts on “Great leaders make everyone around them better

    • Erika, you capitalized an important word. The elected President of the US, has catered to his base. Friedman also said instead of making informed decisions about what is going on in the world, he is making decisions on appeasing his base. Polls said don’t leave the Paris accord, he announced he would. Polls said don’t repeal the ACA, fix it, but he is doing what he can to repeal it. Thanks for lamenting with us Americans. Unfortunately, our problem impacts others. Keith

      • For sure, Keith! The US President is not only a US problem/blessing. It influences the world. That’s why we all were shocked one year ago!!

  1. Note to Readers: I am aware of a leader who would make behind the scenes phone calls to improve the chance for success. A true example is some team members in another office were lamenting their frustrations in working with another senior person, who can be difficult. The leader made a phone call and said, “yes I know he can be difficult, but in my experience his teams usually find a way to win the contract.” The leader gave a few tips in working with the difficult person, but encouraged them to work with him.

  2. A forthright and solid post Keith. This is why I do not consider you have a person worthy of the title President; he does not care the whole nation. He is small person of little character.

    • Roger, character is not an attribute I would assign to this man. Yesterday, he was giving kids of the White House media candy for Halloween and asks them if their parents share fake news with them. He must compete and denigrate at any chance. What kind of person insults the parents of kids? Keith

  3. Note to Readers: I mention Paul O’Neill of Alcoa above. When he was first hired, he announced his first priority was making Alcoa the safest company in the world. Analysts scoffed at this and one told all of his clients to immediately sell all Alcoa stock. The analyst said that was the worst advice he ever gave. O’Neill knew the only thing he could get union leadership and management to agree on was safety.

    Shortly after that a worker was killed in a plant. He got his leadership team together and said “We killed this man. I want a report in 24 hours as to how it happened and how we can prevent more deaths.” Communication improved as management had to work with floor leaders to answers these questions. Floor workers started offering process improvements and productivity soared. Can you picture our President saying “We killed this man?”

  4. Excellent post and very valid points, my friend. As always, you hit the nail on the head. I can relate, for I have worked for people who inspired me to be the best I could be and then strive to be better, but I have also worked for people who made me want to stay in bed and call in sick. I agree with you, by the way, about Sarah Huckabee Sanders … I don’t know how she can even face herself in the mirror each morning.

    • Jill, the comparative analogy you use is telling. Working for a poor leader makes you want to stay at home in bed. This has to take its toll on people like Huckabee-Sanders. She is smart enough to know she is being asked to lie more than she wishes to. Keith

      • I once had a boss who had just taken the job and was only beginning to learn a bit of the publishing business. She came to me to ask why we did a certain thing in a certain way. As I began to explain, she started stomping her foot and shaking her fist at me, saying (I kid you not), “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP”. I handed in my resignation the next day.

  5. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    As friend and fellow-blogger Keith shows us, great leaders inspire and lead others to greatness, but the reverse is also true, and sadly it is the reverse that we are seeing today. Please read Keith’s analysis of how great leadership really works! Thank you, Keith!

      • I’m a retired teacher and coach. I started thinking about the more successful coaches I fortunate enough to learn from. Thankfully none led like the Trumpster. Of course. I said successful, didn’t I? Thank you for sharing.

      • You remind me of Hugh Curtler who is a retired professor and tennis coach. I played baseball and basketball through high school, so am a student of good coaches. Styles vary, but preparation, teamwork, repetition, and communication seemed to be universal. John Wooden has a different personality from Coach K, but there are many similarities. I would love to hear your thoughts.

      • I played football and baseball and primarily coached both, football for 29 years and baseball for 43. They both are or were able to break their game down to it simplest parts for teaching purposes, there is a great attention to detail and both of them care or cared deeply for their kids. I believe that is what sets great coaches and leaders apart from the crowd.

      • Thanks for sharing your background. My coaching was limited to Little League baseball and some basketball. I loved teaching the kids and letting them play.

  6. Note to Readers: Two favorite stories. When Michael Jordan was a freshman at UNC, Coach Dean Smith said – we put him on the white team (practice jersey color) and they won the scrimmage. We put him on the blue team and they won. It did not take a genius to figure out that he should start as a freshman.

    The other story is about Bill Russell. He would get so nervous before big games that he could be heard throwing up in the locker room restroom. As noted, his teams were very successful. His teammates learned if Russell was throwing up before a big game, they were likely going to win.

  7. Dear Keith,

    I love this post.

    A great leader gives you the room (freedom) to shine. There are others who micro-manage and frequently get in the way. I have had both types of bosses. For me to do a great job despite the micro-manager was extremely frustrating because (in this case it was a female boss) she didn’t know enough to even be right in any demands. It was like talking to a “Sarah Palin.

    My son’s first job out of college was at Nucor. It was an amazingly well run steel business where the front line workers earned a living wage at about $75,000 per year and with an exceptional safety record.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Gronda, micro managing is bad enough, but with someone who does not know the business, it is highly frustrating. Jill shared a similar experience.

      I know Nucor well and have met some of their leaders as they are based in Charlotte. They are all about efficiency and incentive, with all employees on some kind of incentive. I recall the CEO sharing with employees that he was not getting his incentive one year as they did not meet their goals. It shared a huge message. Keith

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