Real Leaders

What Can The Study of Leaders Teach us?

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Let’s recall for a moment the history of Chrysler. In the late 1970s, the company found itself in a rather unattractive position – there were a vast number of unsold cars and quarterly losses approached $160 million. Bankruptcy threatened Chrysler’s existence.

In November 1978 – not an easy period for the company – the legendary Lee Iacocca (pictured above) became the company’s CEO. What did he do? Well, nothing special, for true genius lies in simplicity, as they say. One of his first steps was to convene the Chrysler Dealers Council, where dealers were expected to state their complaints around the corporation’s activity.

Iacocca then undertook a surprising, yet effective symbolic step, by reducing his salary to $1 and at the same time persuading the U.S. Congress to give them a loan of $1.5 billion – which was fully paid up before the scheduled date. The result was the new “K-car,” which started Chrysler’s revival. Iacocca went on to transform Chrysler into one of the world’s leading automobile corporations.

However, how is the company doing today? Is Chrysler still the same trendy and desirable brand as it was during Lee Iacocca’s time? Alas, it’s most likely not. After Iacocca’s resignation, the company gradually began losing its leadership position, and at the end of his career Iacocca found himself dealing mainly with public appearances and various talk shows

We should feel free to hypothesize that the rise and fall (with some reservations) of Chrysler is connected to the arrival and departure of a Leader – Lee Iacocca. Yes, he achieved brilliant results, but unfortunately, he hadn’t accomplished a leader’s principal mission – preparing a worthy successor to leave behind. He most likely hadn’t created the right atmosphere inside Chrysler, which might have generated new leaders that ensured visionary future development.

General Electric Company experienced a somewhat different situation. Between 1981 and 2001 it was headed by the legendary Jack Welch, who grew the company’s market value from $14 to $410 billion. In 2001 he was replaced by Jeff Immelt. As Immelt’s career at General Electric began in 1982, there was no doubt that Welch’s role in mentoring him as a future leader was evident. As opposed to Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch left a worthy successor, a real leader. Nowadays, General Electric still retains a dominant position among the world’s greatest companies.

Let’s take a look at Apple. In 1985, the company’s leader, Steve Jobs, was obliged to resign from Apple, or, more precisely, he was discharged. For a while, most likely through inertia, Apple delivered rather good results, but then things took a turn for the worse. In 1997, the corporation’s Board of Directors decided to invite Jobs back. As a result, consumers started to experience, unique, innovative products and the company began its robust climb to one of the world’s most valuable company’s. In 2018, Apple’s market value briefly hit $1 trillion. Steve Jobs had prepared a good foundation for Apple’s future development.

The three companies above show that it was leaders who primarily influenced corporate success and development. This legacy of remarkable leaders, who have opened new opportunities for their companies and the world, is replicated elsewhere too: Jeff Bezos and Amazon, which gave us a new way to shop – through a convenient, online purchase service; Walt Disney gave humankind the magic world of fairytales and kindness; Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google – making Internet search easy while, at the same time, creating one of the most expensive brands in the world.

You might say that these things will be created one day regardless. There may be some truth in that, but my point is that the creator of these wonders must be a leader too. From this, and countless other examples, we see with certainty that leaders are the moving force of history and progress – they influence our world mightily. By studying the unique and multifaceted characteristics of leaders, we can become leaders ourselves, and create a unique leadership style all of our own; bringing ideas to life, improving people’s lives and making them more worthwhile.


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