A Great Executive, But a Poor Leader? Honor and Dignity Are Game Changers
I attended an executive retreat last year where two icons in the world of leadership took stage: Patrick Lencioni, author of bestselling books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and Alan Mulally, former CEO and Chairman of Boeing and CEO of Ford Motor Company during the 2008 recession.
Patrick made a few remarks that caused me to reflect in the weeks that followed. One of them being, “I have known great executives who were not great leaders.” He continued to say that Alan was both.
Two questions remained with me after that day: What makes someone a great executive, but a poor leader? And, if that were to happen to me, would I recognize it? Would you, if it happened to you?
Alan had just given one of the best talks on leadership I had ever heard. He recounted how Ford was heading for bankruptcy, and how he was able to successfully turn the company around without seeking financial assistance from the US government—the only US car company that did not rely on the government during the 2008 financial crisis.
Patrick was called to join Alan on stage for the last ten minutes of the hour. It was a memorable exchange. The famous leadership author and thought leader shared an impromptu interaction with the famous leader of two different iconic American companies, Boeing and Ford. One could easily sense the respect between the two gentlemen.
Being a top consultant for many elite CEO’s, Patrick has met all kinds of leaders. What made him refer to Alan Mulally as both a great executive and a great leader? He knew what he was talking about when he said there is such a thing as a great executive, but a poor leader. He had seen it himself.
Honor and Dignity Are Game Changers
From my observation that day and reflection hereafter, I have come to conclude the meaning as this: Great executives who are poor leaders may lead an organization to achieve an impressive bottom line or turn a failing business around, but they do it in a way that does not bring dignity or honor to the people involved. They do it in a way that gains success on paper, but loses the soul of company.
As I listened to Alan speak of the Herculean task he faced, not once did I hear him refer to anyone with any disparaging remarks. He honored people. He was strong and persistent with his leadership, and he never neglected to value people.
I want to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Mulally. I want it to be said of me that I led people well—with honor, dignity, truth, humility, and kindness. I want to get the job done, however difficult the task may be. I want to be firm when needed, tough when required, and decisive when called, all the while honoring people.
My friend, let’s make it our goal to become both great executives and great leaders.
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