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Profiles in Leadership

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Raised on a pig farm, Dale Carnegie moved to New York City, hoping to become an actor. That failed, as did selling trucks and writing Westerns. What worked? Teaching a class in public speaking at a Harlem YMCA. That class would form the basis of his ideas, methods and glorious self-improvement empire surrounding How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Talk about timing. As the economy tanked, Ellen Kullman, long on the short list of possible chiefs at DuPont, became president on Oct. 1, 2008, and CEO a few months later. As the chemical company’s sales fell, Kullman had to decide what should and shouldn’t change. Organizing the company to respond to these trends, Kullman decided on four principles:

The former president of South Africa who ended apartheid there, Nelson Mandela, has an African first name, Rolihlahla, which translates literally as “pulling down a tree branch.” What that actually means is “troublemaker.” Mandela’s life means many more things: warrior, activist and statesman. Here are his rules of leadership.

"Most of the things in your room right now will eventually become garbage." That’s the simple idea that in 2001 drove Tom Szaky to launch Terracycle, a company that collects waste and converts it into new products. He says, "Right now is the time for innovation." Skittles wrappers become a kite; Honest Tea containers become a laptop case ...

Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana bookended his football career with two spectacular failures. Both times, his passes were intercepted. Montana—who wrapped up his 16 years in the NFL as the only three-time Super Bowl most valuable player—offers these two exercises so you can overcome failure in a low-stakes environment.

With a legacy as author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and as a thought leader, Julia Ward Howe influenced the course of the Civil War. She stuck to her resolution of writing what she thought, no matter whom it offended (her own husband included). Yet, she was known as a builder. "Ambitious people climb," she said, "but faithful people build."

Nancy McKinstry, CEO of the multinational publisher Wolters Kluwer, describes herself as an analytical person. She also calls herself an “insider-outsider” who knows her company thoroughly from the inside but also is an outsider—she became its first non-Dutch CEO and the first woman to lead it. She says she likes hiring people who have overcome adversity because ...

The pace of change seems to grow more urgent every year. Some see it as an attribute of leadership in the 21st century—right up there with judgment and courage. Consider, then, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who spread the speed creed 70 years before it was cool.

Online shoe retailer Zappos is known for its knockout customer service. But CEO Tony Hsieh says his secret of success is really about his employees. “Our belief is that if you get the company culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service, will just happen.” That includes some unconventional ideas like paying new employees $2,000 to quit...

Pete Sampras realized early in his tennis career that his opponent wasn’t beating him. Sampras was beating himself. It wasn’t just that he’d played badly, Sampras says now. “I also played without heart, which is a greater sin.” Later in his career, Sampras saw reality with rare objectivity. He lists five truisms as mostly fair and all realistic, starting with "You're only as good as your last win..."

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