Executive Leadership

Quizzing employees on critical facts can help them acquire the knowledge they need. But there’s a right and wrong way to administer one.

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Before Bob Buford became a cable TV magnate and philanthropist, he inherited a small family business in Tyler, Texas, and was feeling overwhelmed. Buford turned to the great management thinker Peter Drucker for help. Drucker told Buford to write a letter about what he wanted to accomplish—his purpose.

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Whitey Herzog, winner of a World Series as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, understood one of the most overlooked aspects of leadership: Make the best of what you’ve got.

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Even leaders at the top of their game need a little help sometimes. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, told how he might never have made the movie “Lincoln” without a leg up from his friend Leonardo DiCaprio.

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Ken Rees, CEO of Think Finance, takes every opportunity to ask front-line employees to share their ideas and experiences interacting with customers. “That’s where the answers are,” he says.

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The families of Americans killed on 9/11 rose from crippling tragedy to reshape national policy, becoming the most successful citizen-advocates in generations. Their advice to leaders?

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In 2007, Bob Essner felt justifiably triumphant. He had engineered a successful turnaround of Wyeth, the pharmaceutical giant, after six years of reinventing the company. But even after in­­creas­­ing revenue by 30%—to $20.4 billion—Essner suddenly lost his job. What went wrong?

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Employees need to trust you as their leader if they’re going to outperform as a team. They must believe you’ll put their interests ahead of your own. But how do you communicate you’ll do just that? The director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, provides an example.

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Seize the moment that the economy is giving you … Avoid the one word that will kill your credibility … Learn about discipline from Bobby Knight.

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When Sam Palmisano became IBM’s chief executive in 2002, he succeeded a superstar CEO, Lou Gerstner. In 1993, Gerstner turned around the sinking company, declaring, “The last thing IBM needs is a vision.” By 2002, however, Palmisano felt IBM needed one.

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