Automation Team: What Makes a Leader?

June 1, 2011
John Berra says there are six competencies that make a leader—Vision, Passion, Integrity, Action, Influence and Belief in Others. In this column he discusses Vision and Passion

One of the real joys of my 42 years in the automation industry was working on leadership development. It is a treat to see people grow. Over the years, I developed a personal view on what qualities make a successful leader. When we think of leadership, we quickly go to the image of a country President or a company Chief Executive Officer (CEO). But leadership is something we all need. Lone rangers seldom accomplish much; leadership is needed to get anything done. There are six competencies that make a leader—Vision, Passion, Integrity, Action, Influence and Belief in Others. This column will discuss Vision and Passion.

Vision is really not a crystal ball that projects a way into the future. Vision is seeing around the corner. It is the ability to sort through complexity and see a pattern, then project that pattern into a future picture. Vision is not only about the picture—it is about painting that picture in vivid terms and “selling” that picture to those whose work is needed. Vision requires comfort with ambiguity and the ability to take setbacks.

One of the greatest examples of leadership through vision is Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore. Lee faced a devastated post-war Singapore. His vision was a city-state that would not only survive but prosper. He articulated his vision very simply, “we are going from third world to first.” From that vision sprang a number of beliefs, which he drove constantly. Water had to be safe to drink. Politicians cannot be corrupt. Favor businesses that need knowledge. He led the country to what it is today.

The automation industry has been blessed with visionaries. There are two people that I respect for this quality—Dr. James Truchard, founder of National Instruments and Steve Rubin, founder of Intellution. In the early days of National Instruments, Dr. T hit on a vision and was able to articulate it simply—“we are going to do for test and measurement what the spreadsheet did for financial analysis.” He still today drives his vision to employees, universities, and even Wall Street. Steve Rubin had the rather daring vision that PCs could be used as operator and engineering stations. He believed in the vision so much that he took the risk to start his own company. He was able to get his employees to believe in the vision and they changed the course of the industry.

Commitment and focus

Passion is not table pounding or yelling. Passion is showing commitment in every meeting, in every one-on-one conversation, and in every decision. People see through phony passion easily. Passion is about focus. It is demonstrated by our actions and the questions we ask. Passion means having managerial courage to stand up for what you believe.

A great example of passion is Winston Churchill. He had strong beliefs about the impending danger of war in Europe. England turned to him in the crisis. If you want to hear passion, go online and listen to his speech after the retreat at Dunkirk. Listen to the passion in his voice. He is not table pounding, but his speech inspired the country to fight on even though the setbacks were large.

I saw passion in the early days of Foundation Fieldbus. The technology was developed by volunteer engineers from many different companies. Those companies were competitors, but when the engineers got together, their passion for Fieldbus united them and drove them to take on the technical and market challenges. Their passion changed the course of the industry and set a model of collaboration.

Join me next time for more about leadership.  

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John Berra[email protected], recently retired as Chairman of Emerson Process Management.