To better understand the attributes that the best leaders have, I spoke to Orrin Woodward. Woodward is the New York Times best-selling author of LeaderShift and Launching a Leadership Revolution. His first solo book RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE made the Top 100 All-Time Best Leadership Books. Orrin has co-founded two multi-million dollar leadership companies and serves as the Chairman of the Board of the LIFE Business. In this brief interview, Woodward talks about acquiring qualities of great leaders, the five levels of influence, corporate leaders he respects, and more.
Dan Schawbel: What are the foundational qualities of all great leaders? Can you acquire those qualities or do you have to be born with them?
Orrin Woodward: Anyone desiring to be a leader must bring to the table the three foundational attributes - Hungry, Honeable, and Honorable - discussed in Launching a Leadership Revolution. My coauthor Chris Brady and I invested hours in attempting to answer why some people become great leaders and others don’t. After hours of discussion, we realized that hunger is the catalyst for all growth in leadership. In fact, one of my early mentors said it was easier to teach a hungry person how to be sharp than it is to teach a sharp person how to be hungry. A hungry person is one who is seeking truth and is willing to invest the time, money, and sweat-equity to learn leadership truths. Honeable, the second attribute, is a person’s willingness to change when confronted with truth. In other words, the common saying - Knowledge is Power - should actually read - Knowledge applied is power. Hungry leaders seek truth, but also apply it to their lives through honing themselves of beliefs and actions detrimental to leadership.
Finally, leaders are honorable, modeling the truths they have learned. People will never follow a leader further than they can trust him; therefore, the most influential leaders are one’s who lead with honor, not image. John Wooden once said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” I cannot say it any better than that.
In any event, I believe anyone can be a leader. Since vision is tomorrow’s reality expressed as an idea today, when a person focuses on his vision for the future, he (or she) generates hunger in the present. I have witnessed growth in leadership levels so striking that most leadership teachers would not believe them possible. For instance, I work with a former automotive mechanic, who was so shy he had his wife book his barbershop appointments, that has now become one of my top five favorite leadership speakers to listen to. How did he do this? He was hungry, honeable, and honorable, investing his spare time working on himself through serving others. Unfortunately, until someone believes he or she can change, they won’t exert the effort and thus will not change. Thus, I spend most of my time helping people breakthrough their limiting beliefs so they can create the hunger necessary to start the leadership growth process. Leadership, simply put, is for everyone.
Dan: Can you name your five levels of influence and how leaders can work on becoming more influential?
Orrin: The Five Levels of Influence are like a stairway of higher leadership levels. Beginning with the Learn step, the hungry leader begins his leadership climb through these five levels:
a. Learn: a leader must be able to learn from anyone
b. Perform: persevere through failure to find success
c. Lead: extend your abilities by expanding your team
d. Develop Leaders: learn to trust your people
e. Develop Leaders Who Develop Leaders: create a legacy
Brady and I taught that leadership influence increases as a leader improves his effectiveness in character, task, and relationships to build his Tri-Lateral Leadership score. To be a leader, one must build competence in all three areas. For example, no matter how great at task and relationships a person is, if he lacks character, people will reject his leadership. They may think he is a nice person and works hard, but they simply don’t trust him because he lacks character. On the other hand, a person may have character and work incredibly hard, but still not lead because he has not learned to connect with people to associate what they want with his vision in a win-win fashion. Finally, a leader may have character and great ability to connect, but has lost his hunger to lead, thus falling short in the task area. Leaders cannot rest on past laurels as yesterday’s successes can breed tomorrow’s failures if complacency sets in. Because leadership is both an art and a science, there is simply no substitute for investing the 10,000 plus hours to master the leadership craft.
Dan: Who are some of the corporate leaders you most respect and why?
Orrin: My favorite all-time corporate leader is Sam Walton because he challenged larger, more experienced, and better financed competitors in a highly competitive field and through the power of vision and leadership rose to the top. In my book all-time Top 100 leadership book RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE, I discussed the challenges Walton faced on his climb to the top. For example, in 1962, the same year he invested every penny he had to launch Walmart, three other billion dollar retailing giants created discounting models - Woolworth started Woolco, Dayton-Hudson formed Target, and the Kresge brothers created K-Mart. Within 5 years K-Mart had 250 stores and $800 million in sales compared to Walmart’s 19 stores and $9 million in revenue. Who in their right mind would have predicted a cash poor, country-hick from Arkansas could beat the best and brightest in the capital intensive discount store retailing business? Walton himself said, “Here’s what makes me laugh today: it would have been absolutely impossible to convince anybody back then that in thirty years most all of the early discounters would be gone, that three of the four new chains would be the biggest, best-run operators in the business, that the one to fold up would be Woolco, and the the biggest, most profitable one would be the one down in Arkansas.
Sometimes even I have trouble believing it.” Walton beat the best through applying a consistent strategy, a unified culture, and a hunger to improve everyday. His culture can be summed up by his legendary Saturday morning meeting where Walton personally inspected what he expected. He expected his store managers to lead and he inspected the scoreboard of each store to ensure that result. If a store fell below its fellow stores, rest assured that Walton would be addressing the gap the following Saturday. His leadership culture that expected and inspected in results was second to none. Because Sam Walton was hungry, honeable, and honorable, his David sized company defeated the Goliaths.
Dan: What is the connection between strong leadership and organizational success?
Orrin: Lee Roberson once said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” No truer words on leadership have ever been spoken. Anytime you see a company on the rise, there is a leader practicing his craft. I will paraphrase Emerson’s remark where he commented that every great company is the shadow of a great person. Both of these statements capture the essence of leadership for it's the core values of the leader that become the culture of the company. If the core values of the leader are right, so too is the culture within the company. Once a leader understands the magnitude of his responsibility to his company, he will never take his hunger, honeable, and honorable foundational leadership attributes for granted again. In today’s fast paced world where technology, products, and systems are changing faster than ever, your company’s only significant competitive advantage, as Peter Senge wrote, is its ability to learn faster than the competition. This ability is directly attributable to a learning culture created at the very top by the shadow of the leader. For America to restore its leadership position in the world today, the corporate executives must lead, follow, or get out of the way so that others can lead.
Dan: You talk a lot about passion and purpose at work. How can leaders find theirs and help their employees do the same?
Orrin: In RESOLVED, I define purpose as the intersection between one’s passions, potentials, and profits. When you find this sweet spot, hunger will not be a challenge. Sadly, however, most people merely pursue jobs for profit while ignoring their passion. Indeed, this is why so few people are excited about their work because instead of pursuing their purpose, they are pursuing a paycheck. Thankfully, a person can change his course at anytime. Perhaps it's time to do Covey’s tombstone test and ask what is it you want to be known for after you are dead and gone? Once that is answered, the next logical question is: are you working towards that purpose currently? If you answered yes, then you are living your purpose and then must focus on building your leadership to achieve it.
However, most people answer no to the question. In other words, what they want to be known for when they die isn’t even something they are working on today. One thing I have learned about life is it isn’t going to last forever so a person doesn’t have unlimited time. As a result, the sooner a person identifies what he wants to be remembered for, the sooner he can begin to move in that direction to fulfill his life’s purpose. I was an engineer at GM and at 26 years old realized that I was merely cashing a paycheck and not living my dreams. After reading Stephen Covey’s book and doing my tombstone test, I made some radical changes. I took the road less traveled and it made all the difference for me.