Archives for posts with tag: Leadership

“The cowards never start and the weak die along the way!”

Kit Carson said this. Unless you are a history buff or watch very old Western shows, you might ask who is Kit Carson? He is one of our country’s most famous frontiersmen. True, Walt Disney did not make movies about him like he did about Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. But any study of the American West, and the movement West, would likely include Mr. Carson. He was a fur trapper and scout for the Army. He led wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail. He fought Indians and became an Indian agent. He married three times and lived to the ripe old age of 60. He was a hero, a legend and also a Leader. So what did Kit mean here?

Let’s break his brief statement down a little:

-Cowards never start. This occurs every day. You must take a chance and some risk to succeed. I would not be as harsh as to say “cowards”, but we all know people, especially in large organizations, who become afraid to act. In Kit’s ever changing world, you had to keep moving or you were dead.

-The weak die along the way. Obviously, you might see this on a wagon train out West. But it also occurs in companies and other groups. You can be weak in many ways, in your personal conviction about something, or in your own values. Perhaps the worst for any Leader is to be weak, uncertain, or inconsistent in their decisions. Others will see it, and career-wise, at least, you will die along the way.

Now Leadership is the subject of scores of management books. But often when you cut through it all, it can be simple enough to put in a single line that bears repeating, Cowards never start and the Weak die along the way; Thanks Kit.

In my forthcoming book, The Business Zoo, we will look at Leadership and its flip side, Culture, from a number of different views. Sometimes a little historical perspective can help.

Howard Hughes is probably one of the most iconic figures of last 100 years and that was true even before Leonardo DiCaprio played him in The Aviator. He was a Hollywood socialite and producer. He dated and married some of the most famous women of his day. He created Hughes Aircraft and was one of our country’s first billionaires when that was a lot of money.

One of the oldest sources I used for my Business Zoo book was a Times Magazine article from April 19,1976, listing Howard Hughes’ Four Principles for Success. Here they are with my comments about them:

  1. Never make a Decision. Let someone else make it. If it turns out wrong, you can disclaim it. If it’s the right one, you can abide by it. Comment: This definitely ties in with a concept I write about involving lazy bosses and passing blame downhill. I do not endorse this principle as Leaders should actually Lead.
  2. Always postpone a Deadline-for a week, a day or even an hour. Who knows what can change in your favor if you have patience and wait. Comment: I have grown to like this one more and more. Too often, we make decisions in the heat of the moment such as when we reply instantly to a difficult email or voice message. Instead, wait and think about it. You may be glad you did.
  3. Divide and conquer both your foes and friends. Play everyone against each other so you have more avenues of action open. Comment: I do not like this one at all. The concept goes back to the Italian, Machiavelli, in his book The Prince. Or our modern equivalent, The Godfather movies: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Many people have trouble deciding who their friends and enemies are. If you trust no one, it is almost impossible to get ahead and if you do, success has little meaning since you can’t share it.
  4. Every man has his price. The only problem is finding out what that price is. Sadly, in a long career, you see a lot of this actually occurring. Unfortunately, many people will trade their self respect or another’s trust to benefit themselves and sometimes believe it does not reflect  personally on them. In the end, it always does.

So why list these principles if I don’t like them? Not everyone shares the same values, and Leadership standards have changed over time. The 1960‘s characters in TV’s Mad Men often behave badly. Today, we talk of consensus building in Leaders, but we still have CEOs as paranoid as old Howard Hughes. People need to develop consistent values and a style that works for them.

Leadership is a major topic in The Business Zoo and in the world in general. And it is not easy to achieve.

My wife says I often tell new people we meet several things about myself. High on the list are: I was an accountant and my father owned a camera shop. I often say the latter, when friends, or strangers on the streets of Chicago, ask if we would take their picture. Like Eastman Kodak, the former corporate giant, my photographic knowledge and skills are all out of date. Cameras are now phones (we do have iPhones) and taking pictures and viewing them now has very little to do with what I learned in my father’s store.

So why write about a fallen corporate giant like Kodak? In part, because I knew and lived the story. And in larger part, because it can serve as a warning to today’s corporate giants just how fast and far you can fall. Eastman Kodak, like IBM, Apple, and Facebook, invented a whole industry: getting people to take and print pictures. And like these other modern giants, at one time, Kodak had a dominant market share, increasing sales, profits, and even a lot of cash.

When we owned the camera shop, we sold Kodak film, Kodak film processing chemicals and paper, Kodak darkroom equipment, Kodak prints and slides and of course, Kodak cameras. They did it all. Now they do almost nothing. Their stock once sold for $50; now, 15cents.

So what happened? Just about everything went wrong. Just as Sears ignored Walmart, Kodak’s Leaders and Culture dismissed the emergence of both Japanese cameras and Fuji film. As the world was experimenting with digital photography, they kept churning out their films and processing until no one was buying it. Their printing business, once legendary, was recently sold for peanuts to Shutterbug; another entity Kodak ignored!  Kodak also had thousands of patents on everything from photography to imaging to printing to whatever. They never tried to really license or sell these until it was too late.

Articles and probably books, can be written about what went wrong. But it gets down to a giant corporation with one main business whose Culture and Leadership seemed content to milk that business till the end. They went bankrupt and were forced to dispose of every asset they had. In the end, even their name, like Polaroid, will be sold. But don’t get me started on another innovative photography giant that disappeared.

Now, you may be thinking, well, that was Kodak. It could never happen to Apple or Facebook, they are unique and special. So was Eastman Kodak in the days of my father’s shop and even into the year 2000 when their stock was still $50. But when giant firms fall, they fall fast. Even the Wall Street Wizards can not predict the timing or the bottom.

Culture and Leadership are the key factors in any organization. They are often called the flip side of each other. In my book, The Business Zoo, we end with this critical subject that in some ways, ties everything together. They also drives firms to great success or to their untimely end.

And if you work in an organization that dominants its industry and has only one, main successful business, you better do a better job  managing your business and planning your future than some of these fallen giants of industry.