On Leadership

View from an airplane window at the wings and flying over a scenic landscape of green hills and rivers

I was reading the Sunday New York Times this weekend and came across an interview with Richard Anderson, chief executive ofDelta Air Lines. I was intrigued by how communication and human resource oriented his leadership style is. And I was not surprised to see–once again–how leadership is leadership, regardless of size of organization or whether for-profit or non-profit.

Here’s what I learned:
  • Look for a strong work ethic and effective communication skills.
  • Be patient and do not lose your temper.
  • Everything you do is an example.
  • People look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do.
  • When you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run.
  • Change can’t ever be fast enough. But you do have to be patient enough and make sure that you always remain calm.
  • Be thankful to the people who get the work done, and you’ve got to be thankful to your customers. I find myself, more and more, writing hand-written notes to people.
  • You really need to be a problem-solver, not a problem-creator.
  • Always try to be a leader that comes up with the creative answers to the hard problems.
  • Focus on getting your job done and being a good colleague and a team player in an organization, and not focused about being overly ambitious and wanting pay raises and promotions and the like, and just doing your job and being a part of a team, the rest of it all takes care of itself.
  • When you’re hiring, they [candidates] already have the résumé and they already have the experience base. And so what you’re trying to find out about are the intangibles of leadership, communication style and the ability to, today, really adapt to change.
  • You have to probe a little bit deeper into the human intangibles, because we’ve all seen many instances where people had perfect résumés, but weren’t effective in an organization.
  • It’s education, experience and the human factor. The situational awareness that a person has and their ability to fit into an organization and then be successful in the organization.
  • You need to make sure that they’re a fit to the culture. And that they’re going to be part of that group of people in a healthy functioning way.
  • You’re looking for a really strong set of values. You’re looking for a really good work ethic. Really good communication skills.
  • The ability to speak well and write is important.
  • You’re looking for adaptability to change.
  • You’re looking at, do you get along well with people?
  • Are you the sort of person that can be a part of a team and motivate people?
  • It’s not just enough to be able to just do a nice PowerPoint presentation.
  • You’ve got to have the ability to pick people.
  • You’ve got to have the ability to communicate.
  • PowerPoints don’t help people think as clearly as they should because you don’t have to put a complete thought in place.
  • You’ve got to have what our pilots call operational awareness. You’ve got to have your head up. You know, when you’re flying an airplane, you’ve got to have your head up and you’ve got to have situational awareness of everything that’s going on around you.
  • You’ve got to have not just the business skills, you’ve got to have the emotional intelligence.
  • You have to have the emotional intelligence to understand what’s right culturally, both in your company and outside your company.
  • Only touch paper once.
  • Always have your homework done.
  • Return your calls very promptly.
  • Stick to your schedule.
  • Once a month, take the rest of the calendar year, or the next six months and re-review how you are using your time and reprioritize what you’re doing.
  • Get the materials out ahead of time and make sure they are succinct and to the point.
  • Start the meeting on time.
  • I want the debate. I want to hear everybody’s perspective, so you want to try to ask more questions than make statements.
  • I don’t think it’s appropriate to use BlackBerrys in meetings.
  • Stay focused on what we’re doing.
  • Let’s have a really good debate, but it can’t get uncollegial.
  • The ability to communicate and communicate effectively is so important that it ought to be a core capability in a business school curriculum.
  • We measure, study, quantify, analyze every single piece of our business.
  • You’ve got to be able to take all that data and information and transform it into change in the organization and improvement in the organization and the formulation of the business strategy.
  • You’ve got to execute.
  • The human factor part is important.

CEO or executive director. Passengers or clients. Customers or donors. Employees or staff and volunteers. Shareholders or a board of directors. Flying a plane from Atlanta to London or feeding hungry and homeless people. Finding a lost suitcase or placing an abandoned pet. How much difference is there really between the leadership excellence required to run a huge international corporation or an essential community-based non-profit?

I know many non-profit organization executive directors who could fly a plane and I bet there are as many corporate CEO’s who could run a food bank or animal sanctuary.
What do you believe about leadership?


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