“I always ask myself, would I want one of my sons to work under that person.”
Peter F. Drucker
I have been blessed to work for a number of great leaders. I would go through a wall for these folks. I have also worked for a number of petty-tyrants who could not lead others without the tools of control and manipulation. They liked having the title of “leader,” but I don’t think that, given the choice, they would want to work for someone just like them.
When I ask my students to identify great leaders I hear Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, and George Patton among others. While these men accomplished great things, the more I learn about these men, the less I want my students to emulate them.
Jobs was a technological visionary, but he was also a bully who berated his people and treated those who disagreed with him like dirt. He was a brilliant bully.
Welch was an incredible manager who understood efficiency. He helped General Electric retrench and reform from a bloated, conglomerate to a lean and valuable corporation. In his personal quest to “become the most competitive company on earth,” he determined that every one of GE’s 350 business units would either be number one or number two in their markets or the unit would be sold off.
Welch also rated employees with a “vitality curve.” A vitality curve is forced-ranking, also called 20-70-10 (pejoratively known as “rank and yank”). Every employee was evaluated relative to their peers. The top 20 percent should be promoted, the middle 70 percent should be coached, and the bottom 10 percent should be fired. There is a reason that Jack Welch earned the moniker “Neutron Jack.” Welch grew shareholder value, but the human cost of “efficiency” was staggering.
George Patton is a legend in the U.S. Army. In December 1944, the 101st Airborne Division was sent to Bastogne in the Ardennes forest to blunt the Germans’ last major counter-attack. Bastogne was a critical juncture that the Germans needed to clear. The 101st and the 10th Armored division held out for a week against 15 German divisions until “Old Blood and Guts,” came to their rescue.
When I was a kid, I used to go to Joe the barber to get my hair cut and hear war stories. Joe was an enlisted man in Patton’s Third Army. He once told me that while Patton rightly deserved credit for military campaigning, the enlisted men joked, “it’s our blood and his guts.”
I don’t want to work for men who seek to make their mark at my expense. The more I consider leadership, the more convinced I am that what followers want most from their leaders is that their leaders have their followers’ best interests at heart. They don’t want their leaders to be efficient with them; they want their leaders to do right by them.
In Patton’s case, it may be forgivable when the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the country. After all, he was fighting a world war. But I find that many leaders are too quick to expend people rather than preserve them. To a large degree, the difference comes down to the leader’s mindset. I found an interesting contrast between these leaders and a leader like Dick Winters.
Winters was the commander of Easy company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, as featured in Band of Brothers. He was a 1st Lieutenant on D-Day and he ultimately rose to the rank of Major. On the night before D-Day, his unit parachuted into Normandy. His company commander’s plane was shot down, and he was instantly thrust into command. In his memoir, he reveals a much different perspective of leadership. He wrote:
Those entrusted to lead must study their profession to become totally proficient in tactics and technology. Prior to the invasion, I read every tactical manual I could lay my hands on to improve my tactical knowledge and professional competence while the other soldiers were out carousing in the pubs. While they were enjoying the social life of the neighboring towns, I was reading and education myself, getting ready to lead the men in combat….The intense study paid huge dividends in Normandy. Before the final attack at Noville, I studied the Infantry Manual for the Attack. I must have read that manual hundreds of times, but if I could glean one additional insight with another reading, perhaps I might save one more life. The bottom line is that leaders have entrusted to them the most precious commodity this country possesses: the lives of America’s sons and daughters. Consequently, they must have a thorough understanding of their profession.
Joe the barber was with Patton at Bastogne. Winters was in command of the Second Battalion at Bastogne when General Patton’s tanks broke through. By reaching Bastogne in record time, Patton again proved himself to be a great military leader, but if I had my choice, I think I would rather take my chances surrounded by 15 divisions of Nazis with Major Winters.
What About You?
Major Winters is the kind of leader I want to follow. What about you? Are you that kind of leader?
 Drucker (1990). Leadership is a foul-weather job. In Managing the Non-Profit Organization. New York, N.Y: HarperCollins. (pp. 16-17).
 Hartman, A. (2003). The competitor: Jack Welch’s burning platform. Informit.com http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=100665
 Murray, A. (n.d.). Should I rank my employees. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://guides.wsj.com/management/recruiting-hiring-and-firing/should-i-rank-my-employees/
 Winters, R. D. (2005). Beyond Band of Brothers: The war memoirs of Major Dick Winters. New York: Berkley Caliber. (pp. 285-286).