Eighty-eight percent of the Fortune 500 companies that existed in 1955 are gone. Poof.
Half of them withered because they had a manager in the role of CEO when they desperately needed a leader. The other half were destroyed by a leader when a manager could have held the company together and grown it incrementally.
The most important role of a board of directors is to know when their company needs a leader and when it needs a manager.
Managers prefer incremental change, evolution.
Leaders prefer exponential change, revolution.
Managers guard the status quo. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Leaders invent new ways of thinking. “If it ain’t broke, break it, so we can create something new.”
Managers prefer a map and a path.
Leaders prefer unexplored territory.
Managers say, “Ready, Aim, Fire.”
Leaders say “Ready, Fire, Aim.” But this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. When shooting a cannon, this is called finding your range.
Managers focus on planning and execution.
Leaders focus on improvisation and innovation.
Managers make organizational charts.
Leaders make messes.
Managers are given authority over others.
Leaders are voluntarily followed by others.
Kodak, Blockbuster, MySpace, General Motors, and General Electric were overwhelmingly dominant in their categories until their Manager-CEO’s fell asleep while guarding the status quo.
Do not think the internet killed K-Mart, Montgomery Wards, Sears, J.C. Penney, or Bed Bath & Beyond. Walmart sells all those same products and they’re still doing fine because they saw the marketplace rapidly changing in August, 2016 and responded by putting visionary leader Marc Lore in charge of Walmart’s US e-commerce operations.
Amazon did $398.8 billion in 2021.
Walmart did $488 billion.
Managers mistakenly think they can lead.
Leaders mistakenly think they can manage.
I know only two men who can perform both functions. Dewey Jenkins is one of them.
If I written those words during the 10 years Dewey and I worked together, it would have sounded like flattery. But now that he is retired and I have stepped away, I am free to speak the truth.
Good mothers can also perform both functions. Every good mother is a miraculous manager and a visionary leader.
I was raised by an extremely good mother and my sons were raised by another.
Good managers know what to “protect at all costs.” They know what not to change.
Bad managers look only for compliance and conformity, blind to the special abilities that hide within their employees. But good managers see those special abilities and call them to the surface where they can sparkle. A good manager encourages your special ability and uses it to maximum effect, while partnering you with someone who sparkles in the area where you are weak.
When you see a legendary duo, you can be sure that a brilliant manager put them together.
The genius of visionary leaders is that they charge full speed ahead when they see opportunity on the horizon. When they see a storm coming, they steer around it.
Visionary leaders recognize what is no longer working and do hesitate to change it. Bang. Gone.
If you want to listen to the inner thoughts of visionary leaders and understand how their minds work, there are only two books you need to read.
- Sam Walton: Made in America (John Huey and Sam Walton)
- Iacocca: An Autobiography (Lee Iacocca and William Novak)
As a special bonus to yourself, take a look at – Where Have All the Leaders Gone? – a slim volume written by Lee Iacocca when he was 82 years old.
I love that book.
And I love you, too.
Thanks for reading my ramblings.
Roy H. Williams