Profiles in Leadership

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Everybody is happy to tell you about the importance of following your passion. Few let it lead their lives. A good example is Phoebe Snetsinger, the first person to see 8,400 species of birds, becoming a hero among birders while battling cancer.

After a diagnosis, patients at the Mayo Clinic meet with a team of specialists who help them understand what’s happening so they can decide about treatment together, says president and CEO Denis Cortese. This kind of teamwork is the stock-in-trade of Cortese, who won last year’s top leadership award from the National Center for Healthcare Leadership.

Who are we to argue with the assertion that America’s greatest leader was its first? It’s all true: George Washington ran two major start-ups—the army and the presidency—in addition to his farm and other businesses. Not to mention the Constitutional Convention, which he chaired. In a nutshell, here’s how Washington worked.

When he started out, John Mackey just wanted to make a living selling wholesome food. But the founder of Whole Foods Market had been on a quest for some meaning and purpose in life, and Mackey found them in what he calls becoming a “conscious capitalist”—that is, focusing on purpose rather than profit.

The chief purveyor of hip-hop culture saw opportunity everywhere, even in the earliest days of rap. “You’d be happy to work with somebody,” he says, “but nobody wanted to work with you.” Since then, Simmons has made millions launching businesses nobody else believed in across media, fashion and banking, all catering to an underserved market.

Margaret Brent was not only the first woman to act as an attorney in the New World, but she was the first private owner of immense tracts of land in Maryland and Virginia and is best known as the first woman in America to ask for the right to vote.

In 2005, Gen. David Petraeus understood that the U.S. military’s “seek and destroy” strategy against insurgents in Iraq wasn’t working. So, he rewrote the book … literally. At the heart of his new strategy lie three paradoxes relevant to leaders in all settings who face a formidable challenge (or enemy):

Let’s have another look at Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who ditched a commercial jetliner in the Hudson River with no loss of life, as a study of leadership in crisis. In a crisis, there's no time for debate. Just good training, quick orientation and assessment, calm decisions and immediate action. Five lessons we can take away:

By definition, a leader has to be out front. That’s why in hindsight it’s so easy to see how Peter Drucker, the foremost management guru of the 20th century, got off to an early lead: He was ahead of his time.

John Chambers, Cisco's CEO, survived both the Internet bubble burst in 2000 and the financial bubble burst in 2008, when so many of his colleagues did not. He refused to let the huge computer company stagnate. Chambers pushed Cisco to innovate in videoconferencing, idea generation and sharing, and acquisitions.
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