Demand criticism. Let subordinates have the floor. And think more like Vaclav Havel. What you can learn about leadership from ten top bosses.
By Christopher Tkaczyk

(FORTUNE Magazine) – "I had to make sure we got rid of the saboteurs."


âñ  On his toughest challenge: Early on, it was to gain the confidence of the leadership and the entire 100,000-person organization, because I was a relative unknown. The day that I was announced as CEO, the stock price dropped. A week or two later, when I made my next public announcement, the stock price dropped again. I literally went around the world and met face-to-face with a lot of the critics.

âñ  On criticism: I got a fair amount of negative feedback. I always talk about this hierarchy of commitment. On the high end it's disciples--people who really believe in what you're doing and in you. And on the low end it's saboteurs. And there's everything in between. So I had to make sure that we got rid of the saboteurs, built a strong cadre of disciples, and moved all the fence sitters to the positive side.

âñ  On communication: I'm not a big e-mailer. I prefer face-to-face whenever possible. And usually we're in a cafeteria or an auditorium somewhere, and I talk briefly, and then I spend half to two-thirds of the time on comments and questions and answers, which is when you really get at what's on people's minds.

âñ  Favorite leader: President Abraham Lincoln. The guy had every card stacked against him, but he persevered and stayed very focused on keeping the Union together. -- Christopher Tkaczyk

"Leading is like parenting: It's one long process of pulling back."


âñ  On letting go: When I had my first child, I worked through the whole thing--I was home for maybe three weeks. The second time around, I just couldn't do that. What's funny about it is that I had to rely on my true leadership skills rather than just putting in the time. I trust my staff, and leaving at 6:30 when I know they are staying until 9:30 is an example of that trust. You just have to let go. Leading a company is like parenting: It's one long process of pulling back and letting it become its own organism. You have to make sure you have created an organization that is able to operate with or without you.

âñ  On swallowing pride: The great balance of leadership is to have fervor over what you believe, but not be afraid to admit when you are totally wrong. I'll convince my staff about the hot trends of the season. Then I'll go to two more fashion shows and find out that I'm totally wrong. You have to be willing to swallow your pride, but as long as you care most about your product, you don't mind.

âñ  Favorite leader: Vaclav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic. He made people believe that they could achieve their own destiny. -- Matthew Boyle

"I listen, but shortly after, the second piece is to pull the trigger."

Terry Lundgren FEDERATED CEO SINCE 2003

âñ  On not noodling: I have always been a pretty good listener, and I am quick to admit that I do not have all the answers. So I am going to listen. But shortly after I listen, the second piece is to pull the trigger. I have all the input, and here is what we are going to do. People need closure on a decision. If you listen and then noodle on it, people get confused, and that's not effective leadership.

âñ  On driving change: When I was 35, I became CEO of Bullocks Wilshire, a division of Federated. The person I replaced had just retired and there was not a lot of change going on in the organization. I knew that we were not attracting young consumers, so we decided to try some new things in advertising. We had done line-drawn ads for 50 years, and it wasn't working. But it was the heritage of the company. The response was mutiny--"How could you come in here and do that?" I didn't know if it was right, but you have to have good instincts in this business. I brought in someone to change the marketing, and all of a sudden we saw a contemporary point of view.

âñ  Favorite leader: Martin Luther King Jr. With all the odds against him, he took a stand for what he believed in. -- M.B.

"As a leader you are putting your ass on the line. You should be scared."

Kevin Sharer AMGEN CEO SINCE 2000

âñ  On leadership school: In the Navy I had 80 people working for me on a nuclear submarine in my early 20s, so that was on-the-job leadership training of the highest order. Then, at General Electric working on Jack Welch's staff, I got a chance to see him at his peak. For a thirtysomething, that was learning at the feet of the master. I remember sitting in the audience at a meeting where Jack said GE would be the No. 1 market-cap company in the world. This was at a time when IBM seemed untouchable. I thought to myself, "I don't know if that was brave or fanciful or delusional, but I will sign up for that."

âñ  On what all successful leaders share: Courage. You are trying to engender a passion and a desire to do something new. And new is scary. As a leader, you are putting your ass on the line to make it happen. So you should be scared.

âñ  On feedback: You have to get ongoing constructive feedback to push you out of your comfort zone. This is never more important than when you are CEO. My direct reports go off every year and write my performance review. I also write each executive a two-page letter over Christmas that summarizes their performance and what I want them to focus on next year.

âñ  On whether it's better to be loved or feared. I think it's better to be trusted. Fear kills candor and guarantees that the organization will perform below its potential. And the problem with being loved as a single element is that it does not mean they respect you.

âñ  Favorite leader: Admiral Lord Nelson. As a leader of engagement, he taught every lesson that I know. -- M.B.

"Taking yourself too seriously is the worst thing you can do."


âñ  On people watching: I think leadership is something that comes naturally. But you can keep fine-tuning a style. The way I do it is by watching people. I love watching people's good and bad attributes and saying, "Gee, that makes a lot of sense for me." I'm not a big fan of mentoring, because that is like trying to match up two snowflakes.

âñ On what leaders need: If you're not excited, how can you get others excited? People will know. It's like how kids and dogs can sense when people don't like them.

âñ On the biggest mistake: Taking yourself too seriously is the worst thing you can do. I have a sense of humor, but there have been times when I also take myself too seriously. That's especially true with new leaders. They're in the spotlight and feel as if they always need to have the right answer to protect their image. But, really, you just have to be proud of who you are naturally.

âñ Favorite leader: Bill Clinton. When you are introduced to him, it's as if you are the only person in the room. -- M.B.

"Look for integrity. I think this is a bedrock requirement."


âñ On teamwork: Surround yourself with the very best people, and spend a lot of time trying to create a common sense of purpose --a mission--and an environment in which people can have an opportunity to realize their full potential. I've been fortunate at Merrill in that, over 19 years, I have had exposure to virtually every part of our firm. So I've been able to meet all of the individuals who today make up my top-tier team. I think that there's no substitute for that depth of knowledge.

âñ On finding future leaders: Look for integrity. I think this is a bedrock requirement. Beyond that, it's clarity of thought. How a person attacks a problem or an opportunity is often more important than the conclusion he comes to, because it tells you something about how this individual is going to face other situations.

âñ Loved or feared? No right-thinking person wants to be feared. Fear is a negative emotion. It is one that inhibits performance. Who wants to be feared? I think the better word is "respected."

âñ Favorite leader: Martin Luther King Jr. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in the segregated South. I'm sure he had doubts. And like every human being, he had fear. But he did not let that overtake him. -- C.T. "I was about to get my kneecaps shot off, and I had no clue."


âñ  On leading abroad: I spent eight years working overseas. Working with Europeans when you are the only American in that group gives you more empathy and more humility and a much broader perspective. Your success is based on how well you work as a team. I saw others who tried to lead through command and control and failed. People like to think of Europe as one place, but it isn't. To go over there and to tell people what to do resulted in disaster.

âñ On knowing the landscape: When I was at Kodak in the 1980s, we were buying up photofinishers in Europe to create a network to sell film to. It was a great strategy that someone in Rochester thought up. But in Italy it wasn't working. So one day the Italian general manager and I go out to dinner in Milan, and he says, "Bill, this strategy will not work in Italy." I said, "I know it's difficult, but we have to." He says, "You don't understand. In Italy, photofinishing is a family business." I said, "I understand, it's the same as everywhere else." He said, "Bill, I don't mean a family business. I mean the family business." He was talking about the Mafia. Here I was about to get my kneecaps shot off, and I had no clue. I learned that before you launch off on something, you should take the time to understand what you're getting yourself into.

âñ On communicating: Visibility is incredibly important. It's very hard to lead through e-mails. When I first got to Yellow, we were in a bad state. So I spent 85% of my time on the road talking to people one-on-one or in small groups. I would start off in the morning with the sales force, then talk to drivers, and then the people on the docks. At the end of the day I would have a customer dinner. I would say the same thing to every group and repeat it ad nauseam. The people traveling with me were ready to shoot me. But you have to be relentless in terms of your message.

âñ On leading vs. managing: Managing is making sure that you are doing things right. Leading is making sure that you are doing the right things.

âñ On failing fast: A leader has to get across the idea of "failing fast." Don't be afraid to try things, but if something doesn't work, move on. What people sometimes try to do is prove they were right in the first place.

âñ Favorite leader: Harry Truman. He was a no-nonsense type of guy. He did not parse his words and followed through on what he said he would do. That's very unusual for a politician. -- M.B

"I start by talking about some of the mistakes I've made."


âñ On humility: I started work at Goldman Sachs in 1974, watching people who were successful and people who weren't. And the things that make a good leader are being open-minded, having a willingness to really ask for and accept advice, showing a sense of humility, and putting the right people in the right seats.

âñ On leading 20,000 people: Culture is key. This year I taught 26 sessions on accountability and leadership--six hours each--for our 1,200 managing directors all over the world. I start these sessions by talking about some of the mistakes I've made and that the company has made. The 300 partners get together for two-day retreats. Every year I speak at the orientation for all new analysts and associates in the firm. What we do in terms of communication is unusual for a company of 20,000 people.

âñ  On criticism: One of the things we have done for years is 360-degree reviews. It's amazing when you go to a leader and say, "There are 30 people who reviewed you, and 30 of them trust you. But all 30 say you don't listen well." It has an impact.

âñ  Favorite leader: China's former Premier Zhu Rong-ji. I respect anyone who can manage change the way he did. -- C.T.

"Over the years I've developed more stubbornness."

Brad Anderson BEST BUY CEO SINCE 2002

âñ  On having a vision: When I first started at Sound of Music [the precursor to Best Buy], it was basically on the verge of bankruptcy. [Longtime CEO] Dick Schultz was obsessed with talking about this $50 million company we were building. As a manager, I couldn't see that. All I saw were obstacles. I thought he was not connected to reality. But he had the vision. I'm probably still a bit of a rebel, so I admire leaders with a point of view that is not conventionally held.

âñ  On sermons: I went to seminary school for a year and dropped out quickly. But when I was there, one of the professors said to us, If you have one good sermon in you, you're lucky. When you have a strong point of view, you become confident and passionate about it. Over the years I've developed more stubbornness.

âñ  Favorite leadership book: The Bible. It shows how to deal with all sorts of people, from oligarchs to dissident, angry people.

âñ  On what works for him: I'm most effective with one-on-one coaching. I would guess I coach 100 to 200 employees in a given month. I don't really think you can do the kind of leadership I do on a formal basis. It has to be genuine. I don't think you can force a human connection.

âñ Favorite leader: The first President Bush. I admire his capability and balance as a leader. -- M.B.

"The future doesn't just happen--it's shaped by decisions."


âñ On leading 32 team owners: When you are trying to persuade them to adopt a course of action, you don't try to change their minds as much as you try to show that it serves their own interests. I read a great book years ago about the Supreme Court that said the court's challenge was "to remember the future and imagine the past." That's a great phrase, because it says so much. You imagine the past in order to make it relevant to the future that you are creating. The future doesn't just happen--it's shaped by decisions.

âñ  On his biggest challenge: It was the decision in 1992 to agree to free agency and the salary cap as the new framework for our players. The owners had been operating for 70 years on the belief that the sport could never be successful with [free agency]. They thought the best players would gravitate to a few places and the big markets would have advantages. There was a critical point where a clear majority of owners felt we should keep slogging away in court, but myself and a few others thought that was wrong. So we just turned the minority position into the majority position. Looking back, it turned out to be the right thing to do.

âñ  Favorite leader: Winston Churchill. He had the willingness to go against the current, and he also had a great capacity to learn from the past. -- M.B.