Saturday, November 27, 2010

Leadership - Off the Wall

Here's a thought-provoking guest post from Paul Thornton, a regular guest writer for Great Leadership. 

As a leader, what should the sign on your wall or desk say?

W. Clement Stone began as a shoeshine boy and became a multimillionaire. He credits his success to three words: Do It Now. He required everyone who worked for him to write those words on index cards and post them in their work area.

Over the past twenty years I have collected and analyzed many of the quotes leaders post on their office walls or keep on their desks. Many of these quotes are the guiding principle they followed to achieve success. Here are my top 15.

1. “It can be done!” —Sign President Ronald Reagan kept on his desk in the Oval Office.

Leaders are optimistic, upbeat, and positive. Reagan was known for his optimism and the ability to express ideas in a clear, eloquent, and quotable fashion.

2. “No Whining” —Sign on the desk of James Parker, former CEO, Southwest Airlines.

Victims wine and blame others. Leaders may get discouraged on occasion but never play the victim role.

3. Bill Gates had a picture of Henry Ford in his office. It was there as a reminder to not do what Ford did. Ford didn’t listen to his customers. He knew his customers wanted the option to buy cars painted other colors besides black. This “fatal attitude” caused him to lose market share to upstart General Motors.

4. “The Buck Starts Here!” —Sign on the desk of Donald Trump.

Leaders see opportunity and take action. Non-leaders only see the status quo and sit still.

5. "Be brief. Be Brilliant. Be Gone." —Former sign on the office wall of Mark Goodman, CEO, Twist Image.

Leaders who are clear and concise are more credible and more brilliant.

6. “Start Talking and Get to Work” —Sign in the office of Alden Davis, former Business Effectiveness Consultant, Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies Corporation.

Leaders spend a significant amount of time talking and listening. Advocating, proposing, nudging, selling, questioning, listening, probing and digging are what leaders do.

7. "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." —Antoine de Saint-Exupery”—Sign above the desk of Michael S. Hyatt, CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Michael states, "Leaders remove the clutter so their big ideas stand out."

8. Hatim Tyabji, former chairman and CEO of VeriFone, Inc. —On his office wall there was a poster that consisted of twelve blocks, each with a photo of an Irish setter. The first 11 blocks show the dog standing, not responding to a command to "sit." Finally, in block twelve, the Irish setter sits. "Good dog," reads the poster.

Hatim states, "That is the essence of leadership. I can't get disillusioned when I say 'sit' and nobody sits. So I just keep repeating the message. Leaders must be clear, consistent, and repetitive. Keep repeating the message until it sticks.”

9. “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible” —Sign in the office of T. J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor.

Leaders are demanding! They expect more than others think is possible. Leaders believe most people have underutilized talents and abilities.

10. Strive for Excellence. Signed photographs of Frank Sinatra, Mohammad Ali, Albert Pujols, Ted Turner, and Donald Trump are on the office wall of Jim Stovall.

Jim is president, Narrative Television Network and author of The Ultimate Gift.

Jim states, “These are people who I’ve worked with and respect. They remind me to always strive for excellence.”

11. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” John le CarrĂ©  —Sign in the office of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former CEO of IBM.

Seeing the problem, touching the part, talking directly with employees and customers provides a reality you don’t get sitting in your office. We want to see our leaders directly involved in the problem like Louisiana Governor Bobby Gindal has been involved in the Gulf Oil Crisis.

12. “Prove Your Groove.” —Sign on the office wall of Peter H. Reynolds CEO/Owner, FableVision Enterprises.

Peter states, “It means don’t just say it—do it. Show us your passion in action. Leaders use the media, storytelling, and technology to foster the development of each person’s potential.”

13. “Just because it worked once, doesn’t mean it will work again!” —Sign on the desk of Shaun Coffey, CEO, Industrial Research Ltd., New Zealand.

Shaun states, “Every situation is different, and this is particularly so when dealing with change. People are different, and people change. An intervention that has been spectacularly successful may not work in a new situation. It may not even work in the same company/organization again because the people will have changed as a result of the experience. Keep changing your tactics, staying aware of how people are responding. Attack from different angles. Look for signs that something isn’t working, and try something else—don’t get stuck in your ways.”

14. "The time is always right to do what is right." Martin Luther King Jr. —Sign on the office wall of Michael Jansma, President

Leaders consistently stand up for their values and beliefs. It’s not a once in awhile thing.

15. “Leaders should be able to Stand Alone, Take the Heat, Bear the Pain, Tell the Truth, and Do What's Right" Max DePree —Sign in the office of Brian Morehouse, coach of women’s basketball at Hope College, 2006 Division III National Champions.

Brian states, “That quote covers everything a leader needs to do as they approach their day in terms of courage, integrity, focus, and perseverance. And, it closely meshes with my coaching philosophy which is –Do the right thing every day, every play, on and off the court!”


Leaders have a positive, can-do attitude. They are optimistic and believe there is hidden talent in each person. Their enthusiasm creates energy and excitement. Leaders may get down from time to time but they never play the victim role. They take responsibility. They are confident in themselves and the people around them. Many of the office wall quotes I have found relate to one or more of the following themes:

 Attitude

 Communicating Big Ideas

 Changing the Status Quo

 Setting Goals—the Steps of Change

 Confronting Problems—Making Decisions

 Taking Action—Making it Happen

 Living Your Values

What are your guiding principles? How about posting them on your office wall. Periodically take time to think about how well you are applying your leadership principles. Solicit feedback from people you trust. Keep improving.

About the Author

Paul B. Thornton is an author, and trainer. He is the author of numerous articles and 13 books on management and leadership. This article is based on his latest book, Leadership - Off the Wall published by WestBow Press a division of Thomas Nelson Publishing. His book is available at Amazon and from the publisher 1-866-928-1240.


Young HR Manager said...

Great ideas from great men!
I would like to add the following (though I do not compare myself to any of them).
What makes a great leader: one who succeeds in making his group follow his ideas or one that succeeds in understanding the ideas that come from the group and analyzes how he can make use of them?
One thing is certain: the ideas coming from the group stand a better chance to succeed than the ones coming only from the leader.
I would be suspicious of a leader that does not listen to his group.


Superb collection Dan!

Dan Zaccagnino said...

I really like this collection of themes. They are all very inspirational. My theme would be “aspire to inspire". When you inspire someone else you are motivating them, challenging them, connecting with them, and building trust. My favorite from your list were #13 (you always need to reinvent yourselves, especially when things are going great) and #1 it can always be done.

Anonymous said...

"Tough and competent" - Gene Kranz, NASA

Anonymous said...

"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
John Wooden, UCLA coach

Francie Dalton said...

Dan, what a great collection. I would love to add one more that is key. Ask for help when you need it. Nothing is more disarming than a senior executive who
acknowledges the resident brain trust. Demonstrate the belief that your own success is dependent upon collaboration with others committed to the success of the organization.
-Francie Dalton

Casey O'Looney said...

Great blog post. My previous boss had a sign on his desk that read "Spare me the drama." I really liked the idea behind the sign, but found it ironic since he seemed to LOVE drama. I am more inspired by the desk sayings that are positive or focus what I need to achieve. One that I have thought a lot about lately is from Marianne Williamson. It is a really long quote, but if you were to shorten it down to one phrase, it would read "Your playing small doesn't serve the world." Love it.

Call Center Professional said...

Thanks for putting this together; all of these ideas are so inspiring. My personal favorite is #11 - you definitely have to pay attention to what your employees and customers have to say!

Anonymous said...

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity - Patton

Garrett Brothers said...

I truly think that not being the victim is key in being a leader. While there are many characteristics that leaders must embody, having that internal locus of control and therefore solving problems rather than pinning blame is perhaps one of the most important. By taking the responsibility that the role requires and that one’s stakeholders demand, an otherwise good leader can transcend into the category of greatness. Many good quotes here- great read. Thanks.

Francisco Martinez said...

Learn to Listen to your employees and they will Learn to Listen to you!
Learn to Communicate with your employees and they will Learn to Communicate with you!
Learn to Work with your employees and they will Learn to Work with you!
Learn to be Successful with your employees and they will Learn to be Sucessful with you!

Anonymous said...

4. “The Buck Starts Here!” —Sign on the desk of Donald Trump.

Leaders see opportunity and take action. Non-leaders only see the status quo and sit still.

The buck stops here refers to "not passing the buck" and therefore being responsible for what occurs "on your watch".

Leaders take responsibility and do not look for scapegoats (might be a better "real life" application of this phrase)

Dan McCarthy said...

Young HR Manager, Anshul, Dan, Francie, Casie, CCP, GB, Francisco, and all:
Thanks for stopping by and adding yours to the list.

davidburkus said...

Great post Dan. One of the reasons I chose the university I chose was that the president had a sign on his desk: "Make No Small Plans Here."

Stuart said...

While I was still a junior Army officer, I had a Colonel that I worked for that had a banner behind his desk that said, "There are no problems, only opportunities."
On one occasion, I knocked and stuck my head in the door and reported, "Sir, we're faced with a really big Opportunity." It brought a smile to his face. I was able to explain the problem, and what steps I had taken to mitigate it, and what assistance I needed from him to totally resolve it. Message received: don't whine about it, do something about it, let me know what I can do to help.

Dan McCarthy said...

David -
Very inspirational! Tahnks.

Stuart -
Love that one! And a great story, thanks.

Matt Bailey said...

My father, who taught me much of what I know about how to manage people, once gave me a paperweight that says "If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes." I love that saying and it inspires me to push the edge of the envelope every day.

Dan McCarthy said...

Matt -
Thanks, sounds like good advice from your Dad.

Anonymous said...

"IF a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his butt". Stop the IF's, get over it and get on with it.

Anonymous said...

What about great women in leadership?

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.
Margaret Thatcher

Dan McCarthy said...

anon #1 -
Thanks, love it!

anon#2 -
Good catch, and thanks for the adds!

Stephanie D. said...

Great quotes from great people. Great leaders in a company can have a huge impact on the motivation and self-image of employees. The people are the company and making them happy makes for a great business.

Jerry Hingle said...

“Leaders should be able to Stand Alone, Take the Heat, Bear the Pain, Tell the Truth, and Do What's Right."
This is a great quote, and very powerful.