Profiles in Leadership

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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.
Don’t let the big boys shoot down an idea just because it’s new and weird. Another word for “new weirdness” is innovation. Consider Will Wright, the first leader of modern game design. Big companies couldn’t see the point of his game in which nobody “wins,” so Wright joined with two partners and self-published SimCity in 1989. Within a year, the game was a monster hit.

U.S. Olympic swimmer Trudy Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel, in 1926—and, briefly, the most famous woman in the world—for three reasons:

To make the topic of strategy more personal, Cynthia Montgomery, Timken Professor of Business Administration and immediate past head of the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School, asks leaders to answer this question: Does your company matter? And also, what is your company adding to what already exists in the market?
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