During a BEALEADER chat in late June on the topic of ego and self-image, Lee Iacocca was mentioned during the chat as an example of a leader who had “swagger”, but not so much swagger as to come off as arrogant. As a fellow alumnus from Lehigh University and long-time fan of his career, I have a copy of each book he has authored over the years. (In Iacocca, An Autobiography, I realized I still had hope in college when he mentioned he got a “D” in Physics his freshman year – it made him seem mortal!) The BEALEADER chat prompted me to put a re-read of Where Have All The Leaders Gone? on my summer reading list.
Where Have All The Leaders Gone? was published in 2007. While it is slightly dated in terms of the current American political landscape, and with many changes in the United States over the past seven years, it is still a worthwhile, quick and witty read. Considering the timing of the publication, the book is rather critical of politicians at that point in time, and it would interesting to see if Iacocca would be as critical of politicians today.
Almost immediately in the book Iacocca jumps into his framework of leadership qualities which he calls the “Nine Cs of Leadership”. In his words, “they’re not fancy or complicated – just clear, obvious qualities that every true leader should have.” As I read the list over and over, as simple as it appears, the list is rather thorough in covering all of the key attributes we look for in our leaders, and a good scorecard for accessing the success and failures of today’s leaders.
Here are the “Nine Cs of Leadership” as Iacocca outlines them:
1. Curiosity – In Iacocca’s opinion, no leader should think that they are such a big shot that they have learned everything they need to know. Additionally, a leader should not surround themselves with “yes” people. We live in a constantly changing world, and we are faced with new ideas and challenges each and every day. Ask questions. Listen to others that may challenge ideas. Be open minded. Allow your mind to explore and look to learn something new every day.
2. Creativity – Imagine where we would be as a culture and society without creative leaders? Leaders need to be willing to try something different. Go out on a limb and take risks. You may fail on occasion, but you’ll never succeed if you don’t try anything at all.
3. Communication – Iacocca’s definition of communication is “honest straight talk.” While being a good speaker and a willingness to listen are also critical to success, it’s more a matter of the truth and content of what you say, and not necessarily how you say it. There is no value in a great speaker who is full of hot air and can’t be trusted. Effective leaders must engage in honest dialogue.
4. Character – For leaders, this is knowing the difference between right and wrong, and having the guts to do the right thing, even if it is harder and/or unpopular. From a political perspective, is a leader willing to do the right thing even if it means losing power? From a business perspective, is a manager or director willing to do the right thing, even if it is not as profitable for the company? Character is one of those softer skills / attributes that is very hard to teach, but critical for success.
5. Courage – Courage goes hand in hand with Character. Courage in this context is not “tough talk”, but a willingness to engage when others may not. It may be because the situation is risky, or challenging, or unpopular, but a strong leader needs the willingness to go first, go all out, and perhaps go it alone, because they believe it is the right thing to do.
6. Conviction – Leaders must have passion and a strong interest in getting something done. Leaders not only need to motivate themselves, but also energize others to feel passionate about themselves and their contributions.
7. Charisma – Iacocca describes this as “not being flashy, but having that magical quality that inspires people to follow you.” For me, it is the personal qualities that create connections and relationships with others. You believe the leader is real and genuine. They emit an energy that gets you energized and excited about something.
8. Competent – This is the “talk the talk, and walk the walk” attribute – leaders, and the people leaders surround themselves with, need to be able to examine problems, identify solutions, and deliver results.
9. Common Sense – Last but not least – Common Sense includes the ability to appreciate the realities at hand, and the ability to reason. Sometimes our “leaders” (both political and business) seem completely out of touch. When you are out of touch, even when you possess other attributes listed above, your ability to be an effective leader is compromised, because your actions have to take place in the real world.
Iacocca puts forth this litmus test for leaders – “The job of a leader is to accomplish goals that advance the common good.” Here’s the test of a leader: When he leaves office, we should be better off than when he started. It’s that simple.” It seems to be harder and harder these days to find leaders that have all of Iacocca’s Nine Cs. Perhaps the pressure to be a leader in a public role is becoming too great, and the challenges that need to be addressed too complex. But in the spirit of Iacocca’s Nine Cs, perhaps we need to get Creative as to who we look for to fill these key leadership roles in the future. Maybe we need to think out of the box, and have the Conviction and Courage to find effective leaders in both politics and business that can affect necessary change. Be Curious, and willing to challenge today’s leaders if you don’t agree with them. It seems like the Common Sense thing to do.