The Colgate Scene
November 2006

Communication, discipline, motivation, patience

[Photo by Rob Bennett]
One of the most respected executives in recent history, Larry Bossidy '57 can tell us all a thing or two about what makes a good leader.

Having learned many lessons through his exemplary career, from revitalizing General Electric, to turning AlliedSignal into one of the world's most admired organizations, to becoming a sought-after business consultant, he has detailed his philosophy of leadership in a bestselling book, Execution and its sequel, Confronting Reality.

Fresh from his appearance in the September 2006 World Business Forum: Leadership Speaks (sharing the stage with the likes of Bill Clinton, Jim Collins, Colin Powell, Wynton Marsalis, Rudy Giuliani, and others), Bossidy spoke with the Scene about important aspects of leadership in the 21st century — which one can apply in all areas of life, from the conference room to the living room.

What makes a good leader today?

Some things such as energy, ethics, and enthusiasm, have always characterized good leadership. But beyond that, you've got to set a vision for your organization; identify the steps you're going to take to realize that vision; and put a process in place to measure progress. You've got to have an organization that's accountable; good people want to be measured so that their talents can be appreciated. Then you've got to have the discipline and patience to stay the course.

One of the differences today is that a leader has to be far more willing to communicate. In days past, you ran companies by executive fiat. That's over with. You've got to explain what you want to do and how you're going to do it. You've got to get feedback all along the way. You have to understand the people you are around, and find different ways of motivating different people. You succeed or fail as a leader depending on the quality of the people you are able to attract and retain.

Did you find yourself adapting your own leadership style over time?

I think it's a mistake to try to emulate people because everybody's different, but you see things other people do that are either successful or unsuccessful.

I was far more assertive early on; the guys in charge when I was coming up were more command and control people. But I was perceptive enough to notice that leadership styles were changing, and you have the capability of changing your style to the extent you need to to be successful. When I did change, not only was it necessary, it was more fulfilling.

What is your personal philosophy for leadership?

I don't think you run anything by consensus, but you have to be open to other people's ideas. The more open you are, the more open people will be with you, and therefore the more likely you are to get the right issues on the table. I want to err on the side of being candid: in the appraisal of people who I work with, and in terms of telling people how well or not so well we are doing.

Setbacks are useful in terms of growth. When you make a mistake, you need to be candid with yourself as to what the mistake was to ensure that you don't repeat it.

Ego breeds isolation and arrogance. It's also contagious. By keeping the ego in check, you listen better, you learn more, and you grow.

Any final words of advice?

Keep asking yourself and getting feedback on, `what kind of a leader am I?' The more curious you are, the more interested you are in terms of improving and developing, the better you'll become.

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