What Makes a Leader—Part 2

In my last column (June 2011), I outlined the six competencies that good leaders must possess—Vision, Passion, Integrity, Action, Influence and Belief in Others. I discussed Vision and Passion with examples from history and the automation world. This column will focus on Integrity and Action.

Aw 303 John Berra

When most of us think of integrity, we think of the obvious things like telling the truth and owning up to our mistakes. That’s just the beginning. Leadership integrity also means that you don’t set one set of standards for your people and a different set for yourself. Leaders must earn trust, not with speeches or memos but with unwavering daily demonstrations of personal integrity. The fastest way I know to lose trust is to walk around like you’re God’s gift to the world. A good friend of mine always used to say, “If you are the Pope, you have to be the most Catholic of all.”

One of the greatest examples of leadership through integrity in my life is Vern Heath, the founder of Rosemount. He was my boss for many years and he was revered and loved by employees at all levels. He was not a teddy bear; he was demanding and hard-nosed. But employees loved him because his own behavior was unwaveringly consistent with the values he expected from his employees. I never once saw him display his ego or exempt himself from the rules. When tough times came, the employees accepted his direction and understood the need for austerity.  He had the total trust of his employees. In my view, the biggest single reason for the financial meltdown we just experienced was that the leaders of some of the financial companies did not have personal integrity. How can you follow someone whom you can’t trust?

Action in the leadership context is not just motion. Action means driving for results, making decisions, and challenging the organization to get its blood pumping. In my experience, there is nothing worse for an organization than uncertainty. When people don’t have a clear picture, they understandably fill in the blanks with the worst possible scenario. The fear of making a mistake holds many leaders back from making a clear decision. What they don’t realize is that inaction is the biggest mistake they could make. I’m sure many of our readers have gone through a merger experience. A merger/acquisition generates huge uncertainty. It is a special time that requires a bias for action, clear timetables and persistent follow-up.

Lead through action
A great example of leadership though action is Lou Gerstner, who led the transformation of IBM from 1993 to 2002. Before he took over, IBM was swimming in uncertainty and lack of action. Gerstner was not a technologist, but he clearly was an action-oriented leader. He challenged the status quo by deciding that the future of the company depended on services, not mainframes. He made a lot of decisions which were not popular inside IBM, but his actions saved the company.  IBM is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. I doubt that the celebration would be so positive if Gerstner had not been an action-oriented leader.

In the automation world, my favorite example of action is Bud Keyes. Bud ran Bailey (now part of ABB) during the days of developing Network 90. Bud is action personified. He assembled a terrific team and drove them to develop a revolutionary DCS. The whole company was transformed through Bud’s leadership.

Join me next time (October 2011) for the conclusion of this series on leadership.

John Berra, setpoint.johnberra@gmail.com, recently retired as chairman of Emerson Process Management.

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