In 2013, Jack Ouellette retired as CEO of American Textile Co. after 39 years. Like many leaders, he gained confidence with each passing year and loosened up as he matured. He also learned to listen to others and admit what he didn’t know.
A young Ouellette served nine years in the U.S. Army, flying recon missions in Vietnam. He recalls his struggles during his first time piloting a plane in flight school. Instructed to maintain the aircraft at 4,000 feet, he kept going above and below the target. He couldn’t keep the plane steady until his trainer gave him some priceless advice.
“It takes a light touch,” the instructor said. Ouellette realized he needed to stay calm, make incremental corrections and show patience.
He applied this insight to his business. To get the best from employees, Ouellette patiently offered guidance and supported them in their efforts to improve. He opted for “a light touch” instead of heavy-handed bossiness.
“Good leaders always get the best possible result,” he says. “But it’s great leaders who get the best possible result and leave nobody behind.”
Patience plays an especially important role during crises. Ouellette recalls a lesson from Army Ranger School: Even if you’re terrified of impending disaster, you cannot show it. Exhibiting outward cool can help the rest of the team stay composed and clear headed.
— Adapted from “Jack Ouellette shares leadership lessons from the military and American Textile,” Jayne Gest, www.sbnonline.com.