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Iacocca on leadership: Tell the truth

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Profiles in Leadership

Lee Iacocca was 82 years old when his latest book came out in 2007, but he was mad as hell and didn’t care if his friends told him to calm down.

“Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening?” asked the former president of Ford and Chrysler. “Where have all the leaders gone?”

Iacocca points out that while he’s never been Commander in Chief, he was a CEO and understands a few things about leadership.

His book, which opens with a discussion of the “Nine C’s of Leadership,”  is instructive to both business and political leaders. His prescription includes:

Common sense. Iacocca calls this Charlie Beacham’s rule. He says that when he was just starting out in the car business, his boss was a Southerner “with a warm drawl, a huge smile and a core of steel.”

Beacham told him: “Remember, Lee, the only thing you’ve got going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your common sense. If you don’t know a dip of horse manure from a dip of vanilla ice cream, you’ll never make it.”

Curiosity. Listen to voices outside the circle of “yes men.” Also “read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place.”

Creativity. You’ll need to adapt, whether changes come slowly or fast. “Leadership is all about managing change,” he says. “Things change, and you get creative.”

Communication. Iacocca says he’s not talking about verbosity or sound bites. He means facing reality and telling the truth, even when it’s painful. If you apply spin, people will know—they’re not stupid—and they’ll stop listening.

Competence. Seems obvious, right? You’ve got to know what you’re doing, and even more important, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing.

Courage. Iacocca has lived through some of America’s best and worst times. “If I’ve learned one thing, it’s this,” he says. “You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action.”

Among the other essential traits he says the most successful leaders possess: Character, Conviction, and Charisma.


— Adapted from Where Have All the Leaders Gone? Lee Iacocca, Scribner.

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