The Three Traits of Great Leaders

Summary : When I think back on the best leaders I have ever had the pleasure to know there are three basic traits they all had that enabled them to grow their companies. First and foremost was clarity of purpose. Second, they were really good at building the teams that built the system. Last but not least, they were not know-it-all’s, they were learn-it-all’s.

When I think back on the best leaders I have ever had the pleasure to know there are three basic traits they all had that enabled them to grow their companies. First and foremost was clarity of purpose. Second, they were really good at building the teams that built the system. Last but not least, they were not know-it-all’s, they were learn-it-all’s.

 

1) Clarity of Purpose: Without this, nothing else matters. That means distilling the purpose down to its essence. This means a leader can often align their organizations with a single sentence or less. Terry Higashi did it in three words: “Trusted Relationship Style.” TEL’s origins come from sales. So how does one differentiate a sales-oriented company? It’s that word ‘trusted.’ Note how it’s in the past tense, not the present. The past tense points to the fact that trust is not about today’s sale. Trust can only be based on an accumulation of past events that built that trust. It’s a series that gives customers the confidence to move forward with your company.  Gary Dickerson’s CoP is “Solve the customer’s high-value problems.” Problems are markets and solutions products, so what could be clearer than this. Bob Boehlke, the CFO who instilled a culture of profitability at KLA-Tencor, had a saying that “There’s cash. Everything else is accounting.”

 

2) Build the Teams that Build the System: Growth is only possible when a leader can abstract his or her decision-making load to higher levels. Thus, the ability to build the teams that systematically build the system is more crucial than raw decision-making talent. Herman Gerlinger built Zeiss into a powerhouse of lithography optics. Every ASML scanner ships with Zeiss lenses. Making these lenses is an incredibly complex melding of rare science, technology, and manufacturing. To understand this, all you need to do is take a quick tour through Zeiss’s factory. There are business processes in place at every level and all the senior managers you talk to clearly know every detail of their part of the operation and how they must interface to others. This is essential, because the manufacturing technologies for the optics are very diverse. In order for product development to be parallel, the teams that develop the processes for each step must be able to self-lead their parts of the process. Seemingly minor things, like lens packaging for shipping, has to be dealt with in absolute detail up-front. This could have never been done with top-down management, which is why lens-makers are an endangered species.  What Herman does so well is build world-class teams … each the best at what they do. The best part about being good at this is it takes a lot of stress from the leader.

 

3) Learn-it-All, not Know-it-All: The know-it-all’s never seem to get past the first trait. Their ego gets in the way of building the company and they never allow their talent to come to full bloom. William Shockley is the classic case. Learn-it-all’s are fundamentally open to new ideas and approaches to problems. They always ask more questions than give answers and are extremely good listeners. Moreover, this trait allows them to turn down the ego dial, which cultivates strong leaders underneath them. Jim Morgan is a classic case of a learn-it-all. He always spent more time asking questions than he did trying to sell some idea or product. Martin van den Brink of ASML and Kazuo Ushida of Nikon are modern day equivalents. Martin seemingly tests his own conclusions by leading you through a Socratic labyrinth of questions in which you become convinced as well. Ushida-san will ask a single deeply layered question, listening intently as you peel the onion to get an answer. Then go on to another. They also want to hear the bad news first, because that’s actionable and they never kill the messenger that brings it (otherwise, I’d be dead). Not surprisingly, both companies are the last ones standing at the cutting edge of exposure tools.

By G Dan Hutcheson

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