We sat down at a corner table with Number Three Son, ML (his fiancée), and two friends of theirs who looked to be attractive, smart, and good natured. Just the sort of people one would want to liven up a dinner.
ML introduced me to their friends. Then one of them, a green-eyed, blonde with freckles said, smiling: “You don’t remember me, do you? I worked for you. You made me cry once.”
This produced – no surprise – a moment of awkward silence.
The following day, this morning, I climbed the spiral staircase in our Rancho Santana hideaway (in Nicaragua) and scanned the books on the shelves. I was looking for a short read. Something I could enjoy in the free hour I had.
Of the hundreds of books on those shelves, there were fewer than a dozen I hadn’t read. None of them were appealing. So I selected five I had read before, set them down beside me on the daybed, and languidly thumbed through them.
One reminded me of last night’s awkward moment. It was a bestseller nearly 30 years ago. Title: Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, by Wess Roberts, “Ph.D.”
It was a type of business book I don’t ordinarily enjoy: using an extended metaphor (Attila the Hun as a leader) to illustrate fairly ordinary business wisdom. Among the several hundred bits of advice, I found some that made good Attila-the-Hun-like sense.
But as I wrote them down, I realized that most of them didn’t ring exactly true. So I changed them to match my experience and current thoughts. Here they are (significantly revised from the book):
On what it takes to be a successful leader
- You must have the courage, creativity, and stamina to focus on accomplishing your principal responsibility. And that responsibility is to produce profits – a continued growth in profits – by providing your customers with a continued increase in the value of your products.
- You must recognize and accept that your success as a leader cannot come from books about leadership, and certainly not from the retroactively upgraded stories told by successful leaders. It must come from anchoring your actions to the core strengths of your personality.
- You must remember that success will depend not only upon your sustained willingness to work hard but also upon your willingness to push people beyond their “comfort zones.”
- You must never forget that your primary relationship with your employees is a business relationship whose purpose is to serve your customers. You are not and should not try to be their friends.
- You should endeavor always to be fair and helpful with employees. But never at the expense of making them more useful to and productive for the business.
Those qualities alone would eliminate most potential leaders. But there are more…
- You must be willing – no, determined – to pursue ideas you know are right. Even in the face of opposition and challenge.
- You must not be threatened by contemporaries or subordinates whose skills and personalities are stronger than yours. On the contrary, you should seek them out and promote them.
- You must be willing to make unrecognized and thankless personal sacrifices.
- You must put the success of the business (and, therefore, the satisfaction of its customers) above your own desires.
- You must be willing to learn and to grow and to change. But never to doubt your integrity.
The moment you accept a leadership role, you must also embrace certain responsibilities.
Read MoreSo You Want to Be a Leader? Secrets From Attila the Hun