Leadership is not a popularity contest

by jeffhilimire on February 22, 2013

Delta’s President, Ed Bastian, took the time to chat with some of the people from my Leadership Atlanta class and we were all blown away. In all of these sessions, such as the one with Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer, I find myself furiously taking notes as I don’t want to miss anything that these great leaders are gracious enough to share with us.

While he spent over an hour with us, and I have over four pages of notes, I just pulled out some of the things that resonated the most with me personally:

He, much like Frank Blake of The Home Depot who we interviewed earlier in the week, talked a great deal about the people of Delta and how much time he spent making sure that they were taken care of. It was very inspiring to hear him talk about how he realized over time, as he continued to lead larger and larger organizations, that the single most important factor is caring for and supporting the employees. And you could tell he really does care.

And on this note, he emphasized that people don’t pay attention to the words of a leader, they pay attention to the actions of the leader. He obviously works hard to live up to his commitments to his staff.

Every one of the top executives we interview gets the work-life question from someone in my class, but it was Ed that answered it the exact same way I do. He talked about how important it was to make sure you have time with your family, that its always a struggle but “ten years from now you won’t remember that meeting you think you needed to attend, but you WILL remember that great trip you and your family took or your son’s soccer game”. I say that same thing a lot and it really helps guide my decisions on time management.

Ed also wasn’t shy about saying that he always tries to hire people smarter than him. While I doubt that’s usually the case – he’s extremely intelligent – he emphasized that, “if the company’s success is tied to the leader’s abilities, then they won’t get far. You have to hire people smarter than you, that have different skills or talents, if you really want to be successful.”

“Leadership is not a popularity contest.” It was that statement above all the others that really stuck with me. He went on to say that leaders have to make tough calls and leaders that manage by consensus will lead a company into mediocrity. This is something I’ve written about many times on this blog.

I can’t thank Leadership Atlanta enough for allowing these interviews to happen, and for the leaders like Ed that take their precious time to share their experiences with us.

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