The Achievements of Collaborative Leaders
Thus, it was heartening to me when looking at an article the other day in Fortune from July 21, 2003 (in my “save pile”) in which Jim Collins, the noted author, chose the top 10 greatest CEOs of all time.
Collins said: “On the one hand, a company depends more on the CEO than any other individual (and certainly for the really big decisions). …Yet a company equally depends on the CEO’s understanding that his or her role still represents less than 10 percent of the total puzzle.” His implication: the other 90 percent is about the entire organization and how effectively each person is carrying out his or her role, collaborating for the greater good.
The group selected, he said, had a “true corporate ethos, in the original non-business sense of the word corporate: united or combined into one. Thus, it is important to note the singular achievement of each of Collins’ Top 10. (By the way, in order to qualify, the CEO had to be out of office for 10 years.)
Here is the list, along with my synopsis of the achievement Collins cited as making the difference:
10. David Packard: Hewlett-Packard. He rejected the then tradition of CEO isolation and focused on employees. Packard made MBWA (management by walking around) famous and shared equity and profits with all employees.
9. Katherine Graham: Washington Post. Unique courage distinguished her: the Post was the first paper to pursue the Watergate story when it was largely disregarded. “Courage is the not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in its presence,” she believed.
8. William McKnight: 3M . He turned innovation into a systematic, repeatable process.
7. David Maxwell: Fannie Mae. He rebuilt a problematic organization around a new mission: strengthening
6. James Burke: Johnson & Johnson. Burke led the development of the famous J&J credo which has been the constitution, if you will, that has guided the company through many issues and strategic challenges, and is widely regarded as a model tool by leading corporations everywhere.
4. George Merck: Merck & Co. His guiding philosophy which built this pharma giant: The purpose of a corporation is to do something useful, and to do it very well. “And if we have remembered that, the profits have never failed to appear. The better we remembered, the larger they have been.”
3. Sam Walton: Walmart. There are few CEOs that have had to overcome their charisma, but Sam Walton did. He had the soul of an operations man, a place where charisma can get in the way, as much as it is an asset in sales. He refused to let it distract from his central message: to make better things affordable to people of lesser means.
2. Bill Allen: Boeing. When World War II was over, people thought Boeing was dead. But Bill Allen never saw Boeing as the bomber company that others did – but rather the company that would build flying machines for the public (e.g., 707s, 727s, 747s). His guiding management principle: “Don’t talk too much. Let others talk.”
1. Charles Coffin, General Electric. He oversaw two social innovations of huge significance:
The successes of all of these CEOs were a direct result of their deep sense of connectedness to the organizations they ran. Each was a committed collaborative leader who worked with and through teams to build acceptance of new paradigms, ideas, processes or programs.
Collaboration is at the foundation of good business and solid public relations. While all of these CEOs did not make headlines in their day, they established leading American institutions, whose reputations alone represented enormous value for their customers, as well as on their balance sheets.
Each of us needs to be a collaborative leader, because the success of our companies depends upon more than the just great ideas we bring to the table. It depends upon our willingness to share knowledge, power and credit.
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