Shortening The Stack

When Jack Stack and his colleagues bought Springfield Remanufacturing from the failing International Harvester Corporation in 1983, he stepped into a company that had huge problems. Sales had slowed to a trickle, overhead costs were through the roof, and the company’s stock price was an abysmal $.10 a share.

To put it lightly: Springfield Manufacturing was in a crisis.

Yet within 10 years, Stack had turned the company around, increasing sales ten-fold and sending the company’s stock price over $20 a share. How did he do this in such a short amount of time? By stepping into the situation with a solid set of professional values. He believed that the biggest gap in business was between management and the workers, and that without closing this gap it was impossible for a business to succeed. He believed that every person at every level needs to feel responsible for the well-being of the company, or else the business will be like a tall stack of pancakes; eventually it’s gonna fall.

Calling For A Pinch Hitter

Strong leaders are courageous, powerful, outgoing, and decisive, but the one of the most remarkable traits of strong leaders is their ability to step aside and let others lead when the moment calls for it. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of you and your team, and the willingness to use the best person for the job, are two of the key weapons in a strong leaders’ arsenal.

No one highlights the importance of stepping aside more than TOMS shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie. When TOMS started, Blake and his three interns ran the company out of his Venice Beach apartment. Resources were so tight that four employees had to share a single cordless phone. In his book Start Something That Matters Blake describes how, when one day a sales rep from Nordstrom called, having one phone became the perfect opportunity to show when to step aside.

Find Your Inner Dimon

When times get really tough, and your organization is in crisis, being a good leader may not be enough; you’ll need to be a strong one too. In my latest Change Bytes newsletter, “Stepping Up: Are You a Strong Leader?” I told you about some of the important characteristics of strong leaders. From well-founded values to knowing when to step away, strong leaders are decisive and firm in fluid, difficult situations.

Arguably the most important characteristic of a strong leader is simply stepping up to the challenge, and having a willingness to make hard decisions and take responsibility for the actions of your company and colleagues. No matter your feelings about large corporate banks and their role in the Great Recession, it is clear that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon is a strong leader. In the wake of the 2008/2009 stock market crash, bank stocks were hammered, and many of Dimon’s fellow CEOs lost their jobs. Not only did Dimon keep his, but his out-spoken and candid television appearances eventually earned him the reputation as the unofficial spokesperson for the entire industry. While other CEOs hid in their offices, issuing written statements about the health of their companies and the Banking Industry, Dimon stood before the United States Congress—not once, but twice!—to answer difficult, sometimes angry, questions about his company’s responsibility for the Recession.