National Leader of the Month for August 2007
LeaderNetwork.org has provided two mediums for you to experience the leadership insights of National Leader of the Month William Roberts: read them below and listen to excerpts from a conversation on leadership between Brian McCormick and William Roberts. To listen to the four-part podcast, copy and paste the following RSS link into your preferred podcast software:http://www.leadernetwork.org/leadership_podcast.rss. To download LeaderNetwork.org's leadership podcasts (including the conversation with William Roberts), open the podcast player on this website . In order to begin playing the audio in a separate window, click here for part I, click here for part II, or click here for part III, or click here for part IV. Also, be sure to take notice of the terrific commentaries that Mr. Roberts has provided for some outstanding books.
William Roberts' Story
When asked to share a story, William Roberts offers two: the first is an African proverb that addresses survival with imagery from the animal kingdom and the second is a profound metaphor from Plato that explains the significance of perspective on our daily reality.
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster
than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It
knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn’t matter if
you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.”
I do think there is a lot of wisdom in that proverb. As I mentioned, we’ve used it corporately in several ways. In business, in school, in life in general, you need to work hard . . . nothing comes easy. In other words, “When the sun comes up, you’d better start running.” But, there is some additional implicit wisdom in that proverb that may not be obvious to all of us. Note that it does not say, “You’d better be running all of the time.” Today many people are so “plugged in,” via cell phones and Blackberrys, to a world economy, i.e., to markets and business activity upon which the sun never goes down, that they try to run and perhaps feel they must be running all of the time. But the fact is, absent time for thoughtfulness, there can be little real strategic thought; and absent strategic thought, there can be little real leadership. Perhaps that’s why so many companies today appear to be trying to “outsource” their strategic thinking to consultants. I don’t believe you can successfully outsource either strategic thinking or leadership.
Personally, and that was really your question, I do identify with that African Proverb . . . except that I do not want any firm with which I’m associated to be (and I don’t personally want to be) a lion that is just a little faster than the slowest gazelle or a gazelle that is just a little faster than the fastest lion. If we are lions, we want to be the fastest lions; if we are gazelles, we want to be the fastest gazelles. Just getting by – survival -- isn’t the goal. In fact, it’s not good enough to be center of the pack or perform in line with the benchmarks. The goal should be to be the absolute best. I’m not naive enough to believe that that will always be the outcome. Indeed, it may not often be the outcome. But if you don’t make that the goal, how will you ever find out how good you might become?
Still on this subject, there is another story which I find very insightful. In Republic, Book VII, Socrates, speaking with Glaucon, describes “reality” and the quest for understanding in terms of life in and an effort to climb out of the cave. The story is generally known as either the “Allegory of the Cave” or the “Myth of the Cave.” To summarize it succinctly, Socrates posits that we are all chained in a cave with our backs to a wall. Behind that wall there’s a great fire. In the light of that fire puppets are manipulated, and they cast shadows on the cave wall we face. We see those shadows as reality. We’ve known nothing else. Occasionally, he argues, someone breaks loose from those chains and after considerable effort climbs out of the cave into the sunlight. When he arrives, he is blinded by the light and he stumbles around like a fool. As his eyes adjust he begins to understand reality. Looking back in the cave he sees the fire and the manipulation of puppets and the shadows which many others see as reality. When he returns to the cave to share the truth with those still chained to the wall, they believe him to be a fool, a liar, or worse. Remember, as his eyes are now accustomed to sunlight he stumbles around like a drunkard in the dark cave. Quite likely those he is attempting to help fall upon him and kill him. The city, as the saying goes, always kills Socrates.
A life, it seems to me, to be well lived, must be a quest for understanding. Leadership requires the leader to do her or his best to get at least an occasional glimpse of reality and somehow to share that glimpse with her or his partners, colleagues and customers. I do not presume for an instant that either as a person or as a leader I will make the metaphorical Socratic climb out of the allegorical cave, but there is enormous value in the effort. If nothing else it is important to remember that our understanding is highly imperfect, i.e., knowing that you don’t know is a valuable attribute.
William Roberts has demonstrated an ability to lead people to thrive--and not just survive--in the jungle. Also, he has proved willing to seek the answers that are outside the cave, selflessly sharing what he finds. For those attributes and more, William Roberts is the National Leader of the Month for August 2007.
About William Roberts
Chairman and CEO of Red Capital Group
Bio: married to Joyce; father of Adam and Summer; resides in Worthington, Ohio, USA; born in July 1948
Favorite quotes: “We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence is not then an act but a habit.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Be who you are, say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
“Don’t compare yourself to anyone. You are singular. There is no one else like you in the world. What could be more beautiful or compelling than something so rare?” - Lou Holtz, Winning Every Day
“There is a great deal of talk about loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top to the bottom is even more necessary and much less prevalent.” - General Patton
“If you are not on fire, you will lose to someone who is.” - Jeffrey Gitomer, Little Red Book of Selling
“Do right, do your best, show people you care.” - Lou Holtz
Favorite book: I’ve read so many great books (and there are so many more great books I have yet to read), it’s very hard to narrow it down. But, if I have to pick one, it would be Plato’s Republic. While at university my plan and expectation was to become a college professor. In grad school at Notre Dame one of my primary areas of study was Ancient Political Thought. There is so much in Republic . . . it’s so deep . . . one can read it a dozen times and barely scratch the surface. It’s all there in Republic: dialectic technique, myth, allegory, incisive logic, and importantly it all revolves around the search for and love of The Good or Truth in the context of human nature as a constant. Belief in a constant human nature and in fundamentals in general is very important. When and where that is lost, dangerous things begin to happen. When we begin to think that we can change the nature of man, perfect him, create a heaven on earth, we open the door to all kinds of heinous acts in the “short run,” against individuals (generally against millions of individuals), in pursuit of the universal perfection of mankind. If we can immanentize the eschaton, what isn’t permitted? Belief in a fundamental human nature is our most basic safeguard of human rights. Pursuit of The Good and of Truth with the understanding we can attain neither, is part of the human condition . . . at the most profound level, it may be what makes us human.
Current personal passion: I am passionate about whatever
I commit to do. Indeed, some might say that I tend to become obsessive.
Recreationally I have a passion for golf (not an obsession, but close perhaps). I enjoy practicing. I enjoy learning to make shots . . . maybe I should say trying to learn to make shots. I enjoy working on my “feel.” And, I enjoy discussing the nature, mechanics, and feel of the golf swing, particularly with David Leadbetter and Bob Lohr (Bob works with Lead and used to play on Tour), and Larry Dornish (the Head Pro at Muirfield).
While I’m passionate about golf, if by “passion” you mean what things are most important to me, in that sense I’m passionate about doing everything I reasonably can to make sure my family is secure and happy, that my children are successful (in the broadest sense of that word, i.e., successful as human beings) that the work I do is meaningful and productive, and that those with whom I share work, both colleagues and customers, prosper along side me . . . and it is very, very important to me that all of those people gain something of intangible value as a result of our interaction. In each of those areas I am passionate about making a difference. Those, to me, are the passions of daily life.
But we all need causes beyond our daily lives. For me those causes beyond daily life are cancer and the environment. Directly or indirectly, cancer almost certainly will negatively impact all of us and everyone we know; and, unless we come to grips with it, environmental degradation will almost certainly negatively impact virtually every living thing on our Earth.
Dream: A peaceful balanced world, a world in which differences are celebrated or at least easily tolerated, a world in which human rights and compassion guide political and governmental action, a world in which politicians are focused on truth and justice rather than on power and the means to achieve it, a world which turns its resources to constructive pursuits, an Earth with a balanced sustainable relationship between human beings and natural eco systems. You did ask for my dream.
Places in the world you would most like to visit: The Great Wall of China, the Amazon River Basin, Athens and Thermopylae pass (somehow I’ve never made it to Greece), Egypt, the Serengeti and Antarctica
Click here to read about the experiences vital to the development of William Roberts and the turning points in his life. Note how he mixes in advice and profound wisdom while offering examples from his own life.
What would you consider to be some of the leadership highlights of your life? Our success (and I mean our success) in holding this business together in 1999/2000 after it became clear that Bank One didn’t have a place for us. The phones were ringing off the hooks with calls from headhunters, but virtually everyone and certainly every key person stuck with it through months of turmoil and uncertainty.
William Roberts & Leadership
Books recommended for aspiring leaders: The following book recommendations are not prioritized. Mr. Roberts has offered his insightful commentaries on each of these books in PDF format. He provides these commentaries to customers, colleagues, and business partners.
The Leader of the Future,
The Drucker Foundation
Leading at the Edge, Dennis N.T. Perkins
The Living Company, Arie de Geus
Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman
Patton on Leadership, Alan Axelrod
The Cycle of Leadership, Noel M. Tichy
Managing in the Next Society, Peter F. Drucker
Wooden on Leadership, John Wooden
Winning Every Day, Lou Holtz
Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon MacKenzie
Books recommended for everyone: Employees at Red Capital Group are asked to read the books that follow. Employees are provided with the books over a period of time (along with the commentaries that you may read by clicking on the hyperlinks).
Ken Blanchard, Sheldon
It’s Not How Good You Are It’s How Good You Want To Be, Paul Arden
Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon Mackenzie
Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson, M.D.
Hard Optimism, Price Pritchett, Ph.D.
The Simple Truths of Service, Ken Blanchard & Barbara Glanz
Winning Every Day, Lou Holtz
We ask those employees who actively call on customers to read the Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer.
There are other books that I share with discrete groups
of people at RED for particular reasons. For example,
FedEx Delivers by Madan
Birla. Here are a couple of thoughts from FedEx Delivers I agree with
“Leaders must create environments that not only challenge employees but encourage them to have fun and interact with others throughout the organization.”
“Even before management candidates become front line managers, they are taught that employees who will be reporting to them will not be working for them. On the contrary, as managers they will be working for the employees.”
“Each successive layer of management supports the layer above it down to the CEO who supports the entire enterprise.”
The FedEx view of organizational structure is remarkably similar to the view expressed in my memorandum of May 26 “People and Organizational Charts.” As I say in my cover memorandum distributing FedEx Delivers, “honest to goodness, I had not read this book and had no inkling that FedEx looked at itself this way before writing my memorandum on organizational structure which employed the concept of an ‘inverted pyramid’ some 6 weeks ago or so.” Much of what I read in FedEx Delivers mirrored conclusions that I’d arrived at on my own, and it sure felt good to see that very similar views were held by a company that has been as wonderfully successful as FedEx.
Additional thoughts on books, leadership, teaching,
learning, and culture: I have a number of thoughts both about leadership and
about how to build a winning organization.
To a significant degree leadership is about teaching. The distribution of the books I’ve mentioned and my comments about them serve a key teaching function. All organizations must have some rules, of course, but winning organizations share a culture which, while energizing and empowering members of the team, encourages certain types of action and discourages other types of actions making rules less necessary. Culture must be learned. The books we share are one step in building that culture.
No organization can win with one “leader.” At RED I hope everyone is a leader in the most important sense of that term. I also hope everyone is both a teacher and a learner. In addition to helping create a cultural foundation at RED, the books I have mentioned help prepare and encourage everyone to learn, teach and lead.
Advice to aspiring leaders: In addition to his previously-offered wisdom, William Roberts provides the following advice for leaders.
• Hire people that are better than you (that’s easier
for me than it may be for some). I can’t recall who said it or the exact quote,
but “if we each hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a firm
of midgets. But, if we each hire people who are taller than we are, we will
become a firm of giants.” You see the analogy.
• Make sure you understand the difference between leadership and management . . . and never confuse building a bureaucracy with either.
• Leaders do not accept traditional organizational models as the gospel. Organizational structures and the way we describe organizations have changed little since the Industrial Revolution. Charles Handy, whose thinking I admire, says “the very word management, with its origins in the running of a household or, some say, of army mule trains, implies control backed by power and authority . . . perhaps [that is] why it is a word . . . much disliked by [those who] value [and understand the value of] autonomy . . .” (see previously-referenced memorandum titled “People and Organizational Charts” from May 2006).
Let me give you an on-point example: John McCoy’s “uncommon partnership” at Bank One. It was unconventional to be sure, but tactically brilliant and strategically brilliant as well. From a tactical standpoint it was brilliant; it encouraged banks to accept acquisition proposals from Bank One as local leadership and local boards would stay in place. It was strategically brilliant in that it kept those banks closer to their customers. There were issues, to be sure. At the retail level, operationally, the various Bank One banks should have been integrated on an ongoing basis so that, for example, a checking account customer of Bank One Columbus could have cashed a check at Bank One Indianapolis. The fact that that didn’t happen until late in Bank One’s existence is an unjust critique of John McCoy’s leadership. He was on target strategically and tactically. In my view at least, the operations people should have addressed, for example, checking account integration as a matter of course. Absent John McCoy’s “uncommon partnership,” it is highly unlikely that Bank One would have outstripped its Midwestern rivals.
• Leaders must have a challenging vision. No creative, competitive, entrepreneurial team of people will be motivated by some commonplace goal; there must be a challenging vision. On top of that, a strategy and a set of tactics which make achieving the vision possible must be developed. A great vision alone won’t get the job done. Leadership need not have all the answers (indeed it won’t and I’d argue it can’t) but to be a quality leader, one must bring or help bring the vision, the strategy and the tactics into clear focus.
• As Arie de Geus suggests, to optimize capital a company must optimize its people. In order to optimize people you must treat them as individuals and foster the atmosphere of freedom necessary for experimentation and innovation (see my comments on The Living Company).
• Create a positive, powerful culture founded on good values and focused on serving the customer. As John Wooden says, “Good values attract good people.”
• Teach and never stop teaching. Also, learn and never stop learning.
• Be fair, be honest, be caring.
• Even when you don’t have any time, have time for your people.
• Don’t underestimate the importance of words. For example, people are not “resources,” they are individuals each with unique talents and abilities. So don’t have a “Human Resources” department, call it something else. At RED we call it “Colleague Services.” Semantics? I don’t think so. Words are concepts; when you affect how people think, you affect how they act. Here are a couple of other examples of word use which bother me: Talking about getting a bigger share of “wallet,” working to be “Best in Class,” and calling for “cross-selling.” Customers are not wallets; they are people with needs and aspirations. Don’t “cross-sell” things to them, figure out how to best help them, how to best serve them, and you’ll do more business. And, why would anyone want to be anything less than the absolute best?
• Learn how to help your people care. One of the best ways to do that is to care about them.
• Don’t order, ask for help. (Not my advice to military commanders. I admit that it doesn’t work with everyone. And, clearly, in some situations quick decisions are necessary and in those circumstances an “order” is appropriate.)
• Don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you.” What your mother told you was right.
Traits most important in a leader:
• Humility . . . no matter how much you think you know
and understand, you understand and know less than half of what you need to know
• Commitment and passion . . . you must be committed and passionate. Indeed, at times you must be borderline obsessive.
• Compassion and empathy . . . if you can’t feel what other people feel, you cannot understand. If you cannot understand, you cannot lead.
• The ability to listen . . . I mean really listen.
• An appreciation for the importance of fundamentals . . . people, values, and culture are key to any organization . . . and they are inextricably intertwined. Those who think they can run a business “by the numbers,” based on rules, or through some combination of “fear and greed,” have got it all wrong.
• A restless mind . . . no one ever has it all figured out. Nothing has been or will ever be perfected to the point where no further progress is possible. When you are convinced that you are doing it the best it can be done, find a way to do it better. If you don’t, someone else will.
• Loyalty down the “chain of command” . . . loyalty down the chain of command in an organization is rare and because of its rarity more valuable than loyalty up the chain. Organizations are never short of the latter. They are always plenty of people prepared to tell those in positions senior to them that those senior are right. One of my concerns has always been how to get entirely honest feedback at RED. If I am full of it, I want anyone and everyone to tell me so. I use the term “chain of command” advisedly as I do not believe in command-style leadership (again, see “People and Organizational Charts” memo).
My thinking about the importance of loyalty “down the chain of command” comes from General Patton. I admire John Wooden enormously and agree wholeheartedly with everything of his I’ve read except for his critique of Patton. I think Patton was to some degree misunderstood. Certainly he had a huge ego, but his thinking about loyalty down the chain of command was right on. Remember, Patton turned a defeated and demoralized U.S. force in North Africa into the army which defeated Rommel and his vaunted North Africa Corp. And, his Third Army was larger than all but a handful of modern corporations (437,000 plus men during its final campaign), and he led it to an unparalleled level of success. The Third Army liberated more than 81,000 miles in France, nearly 30,000 miles in Germany, and thousands of miles in other countries and freed more than 1,200 cities, towns and villages. Moreover, I believe that had he been given the fuel, ammunition, and go-ahead, he would have beaten the Russians to Berlin, shortened the War, reduced the numbers of casualties on both sides, and headed off decades of problems (though not all of them by any means) in Eastern Europe.
Other thoughts of Patton’s with which I identify include the following:
“No one is thinking if everyone is thinking alike.”
“We can always learn from each other.”
• The willingness and ability to communicate: You must communicate. I’ve mentioned listening. To be a good communicator, you must listen. But beyond that, particularly in times of crisis, while you need to choose your words carefully and be thoughtful about timing, you must communicate often, and you must tell people the truth.
• Be optimistic and convey your optimism! There is no upside in pessimism, and there is no downside in optimism so long as that optimism is contained and realistic. Never, never allow it to become hubris. Andy Grove says, “Only the paranoid survive.” I agree, but I think you can be paranoid and also be optimistic, i.e., ‘They’re after us, but if we do the right things I know we will win.’
• I want to return, for a moment, to passion and commitment. You must be passionate, and you must be committed. To be successful in anything, you must be committed. To be successful as a leader, you must be passionate as well. There is something infectious about passion; if a leader is passionate, those around her or him tend to absorb that passion and that can energize an organization . . . it can even create a movement. Think about some great leaders . . . Gandhi or Martin Luther King, for example; they were committed, of course, but they also were very passionate.
• Then there are two final traits: imagination and creativity. Absent imagination one cannot develop a compelling, challenging vision. Absent creativity one cannot devise an innovative strategy or quickly respond with new tactics as the game changes. When I think about the power of imagination and creativity and the linkage of both to leadership and vision, Walt Disney leaps to mind.
What can organizations do that either encourages or stifles leaders? Most organizations are wonderful at stifling leaders and leadership; that is what many do best. Think about the word “organization.” Things must be organized: hierarchy, command and control, the dominance of management and managers. Organizations need to be less organized and to admit the value of leaders and leadership (assuming, that is, that they want to generate organic growth). I mentioned Gordan MacKenzie’s book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball earlier. I think MacKenzie is right on. He says that in organizations all over “workers [are] being sucked inside out by the corporate milking machines.” MacKenzie argues that corporations need creativity to grow and prosper. They also need entrepreneurial thinking and aggressive leadership--not just at the top, but throughout the organization. But most of them stifle what they need most. Trying to drive growth from the top of a large company is like trying to hit the golf ball from the top of your backswing. It doesn’t work. Organizations need to realize that they are, as McKenzie puts it, “hairballs” and to allow their sub-units, to use another of MacKenzie’s concepts, to “orbit.” Absent room for creativity, exploratory growth, and entrepreneurial thinking, it is very hard for a corporation to grow other than through acquisitions. Do you ever wonder why so many big companies are always buying smaller ones? One reason is they destroy their own ability to grow, so they have to go out and buy it. To have growth there must be innovation. To have innovation there must be some recognition of the power of flow without structure and the value of occasional chaos which admits nonlinear thinking.
Oddly, sometimes organizations seem to react negatively to commitment and particularly to passion. Perhaps there is a concern that those who feel both may value the part more than the whole? Perhaps it is because too many organizations want their employees and managers to be interchangeable parts?
Finally, I believe it is important to note that caring (and by that I mean being committed and passionate) at one level does not preclude caring at another. I care about my family, but that does not preclude my caring about my friends, which in turn does not preclude my caring about my colleagues at RED and so on up the scale until, finally, I can say that does not preclude me from caring about my country, which in turn does not preclude me from caring about this planet and humanity. Are there conflicts at times? Of course. But, my experience is that those who care are more able to recognize those conflicts and more inclined to attempt to do what’s right in resolving them. I think the same is true in business. Caring about the business for which I’m responsible on a daily basis does not preclude me from caring about the overall well being of our parent. Caring is intertwined and reinforcing . . . not contradictory.
Warren Buffett understands, as he understands so much. One of the next books I’m going to share is The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America. The book is comprised of excerpts from Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder letters. There is enormous wisdom in Buffett’s letters to Berkshire shareholders. He simplifies the complex. That is what those who have gained real understanding do. Buffett is a great thinker; maybe I’ll have the chance to talk with him for an hour someday . . . or much better to sit down and just listen to him for an hour someday. What an education and experience that would be . . . but back to my point about commitment and passion. Warren Buffett says, “We like to do business with someone who loves his company, not just the money . . . When this emotional attachment exists, it signals that important qualities will likely be found within the business: Honest accounting, pride of product, respect for customers, and a loyal group of associates having a strong sense of direction.” When Berkshire Hathaway acquires a business, so far as I can tell, there is no expectation that management’s commitment to and passion for the acquired business will wane. Unless I miss my guess, Buffett would be disappointed were that to happen.
What can organizations do to encourage leaders? First, identify leaders; indeed, organizations just need to lurch to consciousness as leaders tend to identify themselves through actions and deeds. What can organizations do to encourage leaders? First identify leaders and then allow them to lead!
Why don’t more organizations do that? Could it be the result of a lack of trust? Absent trust, how can they? If an organization lacks a culture built on solid shared values, is trust possible? If an organization moves people around too frequently, like so many interchangeable parts, can there be trust? To what extent has the rise in instant communication--electronics which allow us to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world at any time--made control easier and thus cut against encouraging leadership?
How do you define effective leadership? In other
words, what does effective leadership look like? Effective leadership
can have many different looks, but let’s be careful with the word “effective.”
Some might interpret “effective” to mean “efficiently producing a result.”
Mussolini got the trains running on time. Was he an effective leader? Rather
than “effective,” let’s use the term “good” - how do you define “good”
leadership? A good leader is one who inspires a team to work together to
achieve, to a greater extent than would have been the case without her or him; both long-term and short-term goals and who helps make both the organization
and, very importantly, the people who comprise it better and better off than had
that leader not come on the scene. A good leader must make a difference in a
positive way. A good leader is “significant” as coach Holtz employs that term.
I have continued to think about how I would describe or define “effective leadership.” As part of that process I’ve reviewed thoughts I’ve shared with others at RED CAPITAL GROUP via memorandum and e-mail. In doing so, I found a few thoughts and comments I thought it worthwhile to pass on.
From a memorandum of mine dated February 21, 2006: An entrepreneurial, growth oriented enterprise requires leadership. Management tends to the status quo. Leadership seeks change. Management controls and cautions. Leadership inspires and takes the initiative. Management “manages” problems. Leadership finds solutions.
From the same memorandum: Leadership is defined by what it does, not by what it oversees. Leaders take the initiative, advance ideas, seek answers, devise solutions, identify opportunities, stretch themselves by facing new challenges, mentor and help guide their colleagues, and generally set examples in what they do. While a team may have a single manager, it can and to be successful it must have many leaders.
From another memorandum of mine dated March 8, 2005 (“A Lesson We Need to Learn”): The memorandum contains an excerpt pulled from Peter Drucker’s book, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. The segment of the Drucker book incorporated in the memorandum is titled, “Controlled Experiment in Mismanagement.” It discusses the decline of Ford Motor Company as a result of Henry Ford’s belief that all he needed was his “helpers.” Drucker observes that “. . . Henry Ford stuck uncompromisingly to his convictions. The way he applied them – for example, by firing or sidelining any one of his “helpers,” no matter how able, who dared to act as a “manager,” make a decision, or take an action without orders from Ford – can only be described as a test of a hypothesis which ended up by fully disproving it.” [Imagine what Mr. Ford could have done with e-mail, cell phones and PDA’s; he could have made employees worldwide his “helpers.” Of course, he wasn’t running a worldwide enterprise . . . but today I am afraid that there are too many supposed “leaders” turning others into “helpers” with these communication tools.] To be a leader you must encourage others to lead, not inhibit them. I want to note that in the memorandum I observe that when Drucker uses the term, “management,” he doesn’t mean management narrowly defined as some sort of command and control arrangement. That is obvious from the above-cited quotation. By management, Drucker means a lot more than establishing the direction for and exercising control over part of a business. Management and leadership for Drucker are inextricably linked, intertwined, and if they aren’t conceptually interchangeable, then certainly his concept of management encompasses leadership. Too much management (narrowly defined) is like a pair of handcuffs: oppressive and debilitating to those who have achievement in their DNA (which I’d argue most everyone does). Leadership, on the other hand (or management with leadership at its core), is liberating, inspirational, empowering.
From time to time, groups of leaders at RED CAPITAL GROUP sit down to discuss strategy, tactics, performance, etc. At their invitation I sat down with such a group in July. Following the meeting, I sent an e-mail to the group regarding our discussions: “The key in these discussions going forward, in my view, is to focus primarily on what is going to be done and how obstacles will be overcome. Looking ahead is creative and strategies, discussing tactics to overcome impediments is energizing, and both are the stuff of leaders. Looking back and spending any more time on obstacles than is necessary to understand them is the show and tell stuff of managers. Clearly some looking back is necessary (we need to know what our financial results were by way of an obvious example), but good fortune and fortunes will be made tomorrow.”
Many of my comments suggest that I am critical of or look down on management. That’s not really the case. Management is crucial. It’s just that there is so much more emphasis on “management” in school and as people come up through the business ranks (particularly in large organizations). In contrast, the opportunities to learn how to lead are relatively few and scattered. I, therefore, find it necessary to emphasize the importance of leadership and to encourage leading. George Patton may or may not have been a great leader. Let’s just stipulate for a moment that he was. But, no matter how great a leader Patton was, absent the ability to supply his army with food, fuel, ammunition, medical care, etc., success would have eluded him in North Africa and in Europe. I emphasize leadership not to diminish the value of management; I acknowledge its value. Patton could not have succeeded without very high quality management. I emphasize leadership, because many organizations feel that management, which is much more readily available than leadership, is enough. It isn’t! It’s not even close to enough. Coloring inside the lines has never produced a work of art. Management colors inside the lines. Leadership says, “Let’s sketch some new lines.”
Talk a little bit about the kind of culture that is
important to you at Red Capital Group. As you can tell from our discussions,
I think a great culture is very important, and I think values must be at the
core of a great culture. When we formed RED CAPITAL GROUP in 2000, we spent a
lot of time thinking about what was important (about what sort of organization
we wanted to be). That thinking gave rise to our “21
“Always Do The Right Thing” is both Rule #1 and Rule #21; that is the first and final thought we always want to have in dealing with a customer, a business partner, or shareholder, or each other. Others include the following:
#3 “Where others see problems, find opportunities,”
#13 “Be consultive; two minds are better than one”
#19 “Learn; knowledge is both power and the key to success,” and
#8 “Think of your colleagues as customers. Think of your customers as colleagues. Value them as people. Treat them as you would like to be treated.”
When I look back at my time at RED, I want to be proud of what I helped create. When others look back, I want them to be proud of what they helped create. Helping build an organization that delivers the goods, whatever those goods are – victories, profits, whatever – is only a partial measure of any leader. The key is to create something in which everyone can be and should be legitimately proud, even when the organization suffers some kind of loss or defeat. Organizations with that kind of pride--anchored in a great culture with solid values at the core--help make everyone better, are resilient and, I believe, are more likely to prevail in the long run.
Others Speak About William Roberts
College football analyst and former coach Lou
Holtz speaks about William Roberts: “A leader is a person that has a vision, a
plan, leads by example, and holds people accountable. Bill Roberts excels in all
four areas. I have witnessed his leadership with his company Red Capital Group,
his family of wife Joyce, son Adam and daughter Summer, and in his civic
responsibilities. He is a tireless worker, an excellent competitor, and an
admirable golfing partner.”
John B. McCoy is the retired chairman and CEO of Bank One Corporation. His thoughts are as follow: “I have known Bill since 1980. It has been wonderful to see him blossom. He is a leader who continues to improve year after year. Early in his career I knew he would be successful, but he has exceeded my expectations. He is a true leader. He learns from his mistakes. He is a team builder. He is a listener. He gets the most out of his people. He handles adversity in a positive way. He leads by example. Most importantly, he is fair and doesn't let his ego get in the way.”
William E. MacDonald III,
retired vice chairman of National City Corporation, shares the following: “Bill
worked in my chain of command when I was working at National City, and [he]
managed a very high performing unit consistently over the years. I have been
personally as well as [professionally] taken with the way he leads people: His
creativity and the passion that people have working for him is just incredible.
You get the feeling that people would do just about anything for him…Some of the
most positive reasons for that are the way he communicates in both written word
as well as verbally when he meets with his troops either one-on-one or in
groups. He just has a way of presenting messages that relates to the audience.
[His messages] are often quite sophisticated, and yet, when speaking to a less
sophisticated audience, you would not know it. He makes it happen, such that
they can understand…[Considering his unit and organization], you hate to use the
word ‘cult,’ because it sort of has a negative connotation, but he has got a
chemistry in his division and in his company that is very, very special. It is
really something. [Red Capital Group] has been one of the top companies to work
for in Columbus [for years] as rated by their employees. He certainly deserves
this kind of recognition.”
John “Jack” E. Neal is a member of the board of directors of Equity Residential, The Calamos Funds, and several private real estate companies as well as partner in a health care private capital fund. His thoughts on Bill Roberts follow: “One of the biggest attributes in working with Bill is [that] Bill is a guy who has tremendous focus. The reason I say that is that Bill and I worked together at Bank One at a time when Bank One had merged with First Chicago NBD, and the leadership of the bank was in transition. Bill’s business didn’t fit with the top of the house’s view of where they wanted to go. So there was a desire at the top to sell Bill’s business, but they really didn’t understand Bill’s business very well. [Therefore], Bill had to do two things: he had to run the business at the same time that he had to do his best to sell the business and maximize value for the shareholder…Bill was able to do all of that. [He] said, ‘We need to find a good home for the employees and maximize value for the seller, and we also need to run the business successfully while we are doing all of this so that we don’t have a down period.’ [First and foremost], it really takes an executive with great integrity to acknowledge that. Second, [it takes] focus on what [the leader’s] priorities are and what the right objectives are to ensure that he gets those things done. Bill just did an outstanding job, and I was pleased to be a part of that and see that process work out successfully for all parties…Bill is a first-class guy, and he runs an outstanding business.”
Lee J. Dixon, II, Esq. shares praise of Bill Roberts: “I have known Bill since 1980 and have observed him in a number of capacities. I was his lawyer for a number of years, off and on, and am doing work for him now. I have spent a lot of time with him and watched him in three different companies that he was involved in, so I have a pretty good sense of what I have observed…Bill is a brilliant guy. That is pretty obvious. He has great vision. One of the things that I appreciate the most about him is that while he is very cerebral, he has a quality that doesn’t always come with that, and that is that he is a pragmatist. That has really helped provide success to his businesses. [A question I have considered is], ‘What is Bill’s strongest leadership attribute?’ …[When this quality] is effective--as it has been with Bill--you will see employees who are loyal and who are dedicated and enthusiastic. That is the workforce that Bill has. I really think Bill’s greatest quality is his sincere concern for his employees. He is the real deal. It is legitimate. His most difficult times are in trying to make sure that his employees are being treated fairly. I have seen him struggle with that [because] he has a keen sense of fairness…He ensures that all who participate in the business are rewarded financially, emotionally, and professionally. I think that if you check, you would see a great deal of stability in his employees, and I think that is the reason... I have a measure of a man: I call it the foxhole analogy or the foxhole test. The question is, ‘Would I want to be in a foxhole in a war with him?’ I would have Bill anytime. If you [have] to be with one guy who has your back, he is the guy that I would consider as a true colleague and a friend…I believe it is an honor to have made his acquaintance and his friendship, and I treasure it…”
Jack Luikart, retired chairman and CEO of
Sutro Company, says this about Bill Roberts: “The thing that impressed me about
Bill is that he really wanted to maximize the potential of everyone around him,
including himself. [Bill’s] feelings were that you only live once. [Therefore],
you’ve got to maximize what you do here and take advantage of all the things
that are available to you. [Bill] goes about that on a daily basis, trying to
understand how he can make a bigger, better contribution to his life and to [the
lives of] everyone around him. That results in a tremendous focus and a
tremendous desire to have a vision and achieve all of the potential that has
been given to us.”
Dan Kendall, managing director of the Global Consulting Partnership, is a consultant who has worked with Bill Roberts and other associates at Red Capital Group. Here are his thoughts on Bill Roberts: “The man is a visionary…He has [Red Capital Group] on a pretty steep growth curve, and there is no question in my mind that they will achieve it because of his leadership…He is a master of handling change and transition…and has been able to maintain Red Capital’s culture, identity and uniqueness [throughout much change that his organization has encountered]…He really seems to have mastered the ability to steer his ship through rough waters from a ‘change management’ standpoint and turned [dealing with change] into an advantage…Bill has actually perfected the idea of leveraging change to his advantage; a lot of leaders talk about it, but very few can actually execute it…[Bill has] an acute ability to spot talent and bring top people on board...[Additionally], he seems to have an uncanny ability to be able to not only bring that talent in but to maximize the use of that talent and keep [talented people] around. He has accumulated a very, very smart and talented executive team around him… [In visiting with numerous associates at Red Capital], one thing that was really consistent was that no matter what people’s positions were, and no matter how strongly they agreed or disagreed with Bill and his approach to life, every single person I ever talked to in his company would have walked right off the cliff with him if he said, ‘Let’s go.’ He inspires a great deal of loyalty amongst his people, and I think that shows in their very low turnover rate and in the tenure of their top people…”
E. Joseph Knoll, Esq., Managing Partner of the Washington D.C. Law Firm of Krooth and Altman adds: “Bill Roberts practices and attracts loyalty because of his genuine concern that clients and employees come first. Serving their interests, ethically, fairly and professionally is far more important to Bill than any personal success he may achieve.”
Paul Smith, now an AVP in RED’s Tax Credit group, joined RED as an intern while in college in the winter of 2004. He comments: “As a young professional, I couldn't ask for a better role model/leader than Bill. He encourages everyone to aggressively take advantage of the opportunities both at our company and within the industry all the while maintaining a focus on learning and being a good person. My opinion is that a true leader leads by example, and it is with no doubt that Bill has practiced what he preaches for his entire career. The success of RED exemplifies it.”
Andrea Jennings, who joined RED’s Apprenticeship Program in the spring of 2007, shares the following: “Though I do not know Bill Roberts well on a personal level, I certainly can attest to the type of corporate environment he has created and encouraged at RED. His passionate leadership style permeates all levels of the company through his various methods of inspiration. From early elementary school through college I was continuously immersed in competitive athletic surroundings. For this reason, I personally find the words team, leader, motivation and inspiration to hold great meaning. As a young person new to the corporate world, I never expected to find a company so distinctly based around these words and values. After joining RED I can now happily say that I have been proven wrong! We were always taught in sports that attitudes are contagious, for better or for worse. I think that RED is a great example of the former because of the positive tone set by Bill. It is evident that he cares about what he does and the people his actions affect, be it customers or colleagues, since he views both as equally important. Anyone can notice the extensive thought he puts into everything he does. The word 'caring' may not be one of the top five adjectives typically listed when describing a leader, but in my opinion it is the most important. Mainly because it all comes down to physics in the end: eventually everything trickles down. If a leader does not care, it is likely that those being led will ultimately follow suit. A high standard of values has been established and a tone has been set at this firm. Add to that over 250 hard-working individuals committed to maintaining these values and you have a successful company like RED.”
For More About William Roberts
Visit the website for his organization, Red Capital Group.
Though already highly developed as a leader, William Roberts continues to study leadership and offer insights to others. If you would like to exchange ideas with him about culture, leadership, or values, he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.