When I say “industry leader” who comes to mind? Quick tell me! Some shout Donald Trump, some Lee Iacocca. These two men, and many others like them, are somewhat famous in our culture. After all, they get a lot of press. Household names come to mind first. While I acknowledge the charisma, savvy, and success that these men exude, if industry leadership is measured by market performance they don’t hold a candlestick to men like Darwin Smith and George Cain.
Darwin…George, who? That’s right, you’ve never heard of them unless you study industry at the micro level. Darwin Smith was CEO of Kimberly-Clark and George Cain CEO of Abbott Laboratories.
Smith and Cain outperformed Trump and Iacocca in nearly every category, especially the ones that really count. Smith and Cain outperformed the market nearly 15:1 and built companies that are still known as legacies. Trump and Iacocca performed at market standards and when they walked away not much remained.
Jim Collins in his book, “Good-To-Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t”, unwinds an amazing study regarding industry leaders. Collins simply utilizes data to make his point; he’s not interested in opinions. That’s why I love this book and highly recommend it.
Collins allows the data to define what makes a good leader like Trump and Iacocca and what makes a great leader like Smith and Cain. There are several reasons that can’t be presented here in this short article. Collins defines leaders like Trump and Iacocca as effective visionaries and hard driving performers who care more about their own image than the companies they lead. They are charismatic leaders surrounded by a thousand “yes men”. They are unreachable leaders that build large walls. They simply bark out orders from the tower and expect to see results.
Collins goes on to define leaders like Smith and Cain as men who build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They live their lives as an open book. They are consistently open to everyone around them. They are quick to give credit for success to those outside themselves and quick to personally accept responsibility for failure. They are always more concerned about the company and its employees than themselves.
The good-to-great leaders never want to become larger-than-life heroes. They never aspire to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They are seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.
If an icon-ish pedestal is your goal, you’ll need to hide all your flaws; that will require walls. If greatness is your goal, your flaws will guide you toward someone outside yourself; no walls required.