THE SEVEN KEYS TO BUSINESS LEADERSHIP A presidential campaign raises the question anew: How can corporate chiefs go beyond managing and learn to inspire? Here are lessons from some of the best.
By Kenneth Labich REPORTER ASSOCIATE Kate Ballen

(FORTUNE Magazine) – THE BARBARIAN HORDES were descending on Rome, mayhem in their loathsome souls. There was only one man to take charge of the republic in its hour of need, and the call went out to a humble farmer named Cincinnatus. He came, he saw, he conquered. Then, barely pausing for the laying on of laurels and the odd victory orgy, he went home and resumed tilling the lower XL. What a guy! Cincinnatus lived in the fifth century B.C., but his tale seems especially apt in this season. A presidential election quadrennially teases out the American public's deep longing for a selfless savior of heroic proportions, and the candidates unsurprisingly play to the crowd. George Bush earlier in his campaign confessed the need to display his grasp of ''the vision thing.'' Michael Dukakis says the real issue before America is what he calls ''the L word,'' the leadership thing. Harry Truman, who turned out to be a much more effective leader than most had expected, defined the terms as well as anyone. Leadership, he said, is ''the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do, and like it.'' An unprecedented array of complex problems in U.S. business -- overseas competition, rapid technological change, deregulation of markets, a revolution in management-labor relations -- has greatly increased the need for corporations to evolve and adapt. Accordingly, the need for unusually creative leaders to propel their companies through major change has never been greater. John P. Kotter, a professor at the Harvard business school, contends, ''It is not hyperbole to say that there is a leadership crisis in the U.S. today.'' The CEOs of America's largest companies disagree, saying the quality and quantity of leadership is sufficient to meet today's challenges (see following story). But then it shouldn't be surprising that the top business leaders think business leadership is in good hands. Quite a bit can be done to make the most of leaders we have and develop the leaders of the future. While the best leaders seem to possess a God-given spark, anyone can become a better leader. Management consultants, business school professors, and corporate CEOs largely agree on seven guidelines that, in aggregate, produce effective leadership.

1 Trust subordinates. Managers have been hearing it for years, yet many of them still don't believe: The corporate command-and-control structure, with virtually all authority and responsibility residing in a chief executive at ; the top of a management pyramid, is fast giving way. The model that management consultants and B-school professors advocate instead is one they call the high-commitment organization. It requires pushing responsibility down the ladder and relying far more on the energy and talent of the entire work force. Your workers haven't been evincing much energy and talent? Maybe that's because they don't trust the company to reward those qualities, and perhaps that's because the company doesn't trust the workers to exhibit them. Management experts say the key to making a high-commitment organization work is mutual trust between top executives and employees. The ability to engender that trusting relationship has become the No. 1 leadership test. Says Steven F. Dichter, a partner at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.: ''You can no longer afford to manage for average performance, and if you want to get that extra margin from employees you have to loosen all the boundaries.''

Beth Pritchard tried it, and it worked. She heads S.C. Johnson Wax's insect control division, which markets products such as Raid ant and roach spray and Off mosquito repellent. The division was already the leader in the field when Pritchard, 40, took over two years ago. But she has set it on an even more successful course, radically changing formulas for key products, revamping packaging, and redeploying her top staff to zero in on the needs of customers in each region of the U.S. (the rationale being that Northeastern bugs are quite different from Southwestern ones). She accomplished all that by recognizing the potential of the people working for her and delegating as much authority as possible. Says she: ''My philosophy is that you can't do anything yourself. Your people have to do it.''

An important initial step toward giving more authority to lower-level employees is letting them have a voice in decisions. Ford Motor chief Donald E. Petersen, 62, was among the first CEOs of giant American companies to recognize this. To freshen the sense of teamwork at Ford, he established a company conference center where small groups of executives from around the world receive information and discuss basic strategies. ''Employee involvement requires participative management,'' says Petersen. ''Anyone who has a legitimate reason, who will be affected by a decision, ought to have the feeling that people want to know how he or she feels.'' Such worker involvement was a major factor in the improved quality of Ford's cars in the Eighties, which played a large role in its financial turnaround. Industry veterans who remember the company a decade ago say the change in attitude among employees is almost palpable. CEOs polled for the following article consider Petersen America's most effective business leader. Giving subordinates more freedom hardly requires turning the organization into a free-for-all. McDonald's, famous as the company that leaves nothing to chance (always salt the bin of French fries from back to front), in many ways encourages employees in the field to function autonomously. Top management likes operators of individual restaurants to tinker with menu items and ways of serving customers. A cherished chapter of company history tells how a franchisee in Pittsburgh invented the Big Mac. CEO Michael R. Quinlan, 43, has no wish to change the system. As he says, ''We've got a 10,000-restaurant laboratory out there.'' Another benefit of giving subordinates lots of authority: The policy helps them become leaders who may one day take charge of the company. Is it any wonder that such detail-obsessed CEOs as Harold Geneen of ITT and Harry Gray of United Technologies left messy succession problems in their wake? By contrast, look at Johnson & Johnson's James E. Burke, who is passionate about decentralized management and partly for that reason is often cited as one of the most effective leaders in business. He says, ''We spend time with our managers, but we tell them it is their responsibility to run their company.'' One reason: ''Leaders are developed by challenges.''

2 Develop a vision. Many executives complain that they can't afford to be visionary as long as Wall Street analysts and restive shareholders continue to press for higher earnings quarter by quarter. Impressive evidence suggests that investors actually pay attention to long-term planning by management; for example, a study by a Pennsylvania State University researcher of companies that announced large investments not expected to pay off for years found that the companies' stocks generally rose on the news. Certainly employees keep an eye on the long term. Like anyone being led, they like to know where they're going and why, and they hate to be whipsawed by changing goals. Steve S. Chen, 44, left Cray Research last year because he had a vision of a supercomputer that Cray decided not to build. ''This machine will be built, it has to be built,'' says Chen. ''The future of technology in this country is at stake.'' Evidence of a vision's potency to inspire: About 40 colleagues followed Chen out the door. Don't underestimate the power of a vision. McDonald's founder, Ray Kroc, pictured his empire long before it existed, and he saw how to get there. He invented the company motto -- ''Quality, service, cleanliness, and value'' -- and kept repeating it to employees for the rest of his life. When Stanley C. Gault took over as CEO of Rubbermaid in 1980, the then staid producer of household items was slogging toward the recession, sure to get hammered. But Gault, who had recently lost out in a race for the top job at General Electric, came aboard and let the troops know what he was aiming for: 15% average annual growth of sales, profits, and earnings per share, plus $1 billion in sales by 1990. He slashed staff, sold off divisions, and made some timely acquisitions, and Rubbermaid has exceeded those ambitious goals. Gault sailed through the recession and since 1981 has posted 31 consecutive quarters of record sales and profits. The Wooster, Ohio, company has become one of the nation's fastest-growing, most innovative manufacturers, introducing over 1,000 new products in the past five years. Says Gault: ''You have to set the tone and pace, define objectives and strategies, demonstrate through personal example what you expect from others.'' One thing Gault expects is plenty of hard work. His personal schedule often includes ten-hour workdays, seven days a week. Of course a leader must be able to sell his vision, and that can be difficult. The instantly classic example: Richard Ferris's attempt to assemble a vast travel conglomerate of United Airlines, Hertz rental cars, and Westin and Hilton International hotels under the Allegis name. The projected synergies would have taken a long time to develop, and investors were not persuaded to follow Ferris to the payoff. Last year, rather than give Allegis allegiance, they decided the company was more valuable in pieces.

3 Keep your cool. While crisis isn't the only test of leadership, it's the acid test. By demonstrating grace under pressure, the best leaders inspire those around them to stay calm and act intelligently. Example: John J. Phelan Jr., 57, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, who was particularly graceful even as stock prices plunged around him last October. Under powerful urging to shut the exchange and halt the bloodletting, Phelan stood fast and kept his doors open. He held a series of crucial press conferences, helping to prevent more panic selling by displaying dispassionate decisiveness. He maintains that genuine leadership necessarily involves stepping forward in a crisis. ''You have to take a position, whether you like it or not,'' he says. ''The natural inclination is to hide in a hole for a while. But if you don't talk about some of the problems, you create a credibility gap.'' Sometimes a crisis lasts far more than a day or two. Organized labor has been under assault for nearly a decade in the U.S., and no union has been savaged more brutally than the United Steelworkers. The combination of restructuring and new technology has cut membership rolls in half, to about 640,000, and managements throughout the basic industries have sought deep wage cuts and benefit givebacks. That the Steelworkers remain a cohesive unit with reasonably favorable contracts stands as testimony to the crisis management skills of union head Lynn R. Williams, 64, arguably the most effective leader in U.S. organized labor. ''You deliberately try to work by committee, by consensus, but there are times when a leader simply has to take charge,'' he says. ''I am willing to assume responsibility in a critical moment.'' For example, after LTV declared bankruptcy and stopped paying insurance premiums for retirees in 1986, Williams faced down management, calling a strike at one of the company's Indiana plants and then threatening to expand the job action. LTV eventually resumed the payments. Thanks in large measure to Williams's negotiating skills, steelworkers received an innovative profit-sharing plan in exchange for wage concessions. If their employer is sufficiently profitable, workers get back cash. If not, they receive stock. Union members also have a greater voice in strategic company decisions and enjoy additional job security. Williams asserts that the basic industries have stabilized enough to enable the union to begin organizing again to rebuild its membership.

4 Encourage risks. Effective corporate leaders encourage employees not only to take chances but also to readily accept error. They make clear to one and all that the future of the enterprise rests on a willingness to experiment, to push in new and untested directions. The best way for a leader to convey that message -- or any message -- is by leading the charge personally. Frederick W. Smith, 44, set an entrepreneurial tone for Federal Express when he founded the company 15 years ago. A former Marine Corps officer back from Vietnam, Smith risked several million dollars he had inherited from his father on a longtime dream of starting up an overnight air delivery service. At the time no obvious nationwide market for such a service existed, and few industry experts thought one would develop quickly. Smith persisted and assembled an international delivery empire that earned $188 million on revenues of $3.9 billion in fiscal 1988. Even with all his success, Smith continues to resist the safe route; sometimes he stumbles. He introduced an electronic message transmission service called ZapMail in 1984 and lost $233 million on it. His philosophy of risk is succinctly stated in the Federal Express Manager's Guide, a folksy compendium of leadership tips that functions as a sort of company bible. ''Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something different,'' it says. Employees know that Smith lives by it.

5 Be an expert. Another hallmark of successful corporate leaders is that they do their homework. The troops will follow a lot more willingly if they are confident that the man or woman in front knows at least as much as they do. What August Busch of Anheuser-Busch doesn't know about beer probably isn't worth knowing; ditto with Corning's Jamie Houghton on the subject of glass. Both run companies that dominate the competition. Both CEOs also run family-dominated companies and were educated in their respective industries virtually from birth. Most executives don't have that advantage, and many have parachuted into companies with which they are only passingly familiar. Apple Computer Chairman John Sculley has achieved much- noted success as a corporate leader, even though he knew almost nothing about personal computers when he came to Apple in 1983 after years as a marketer at PepsiCo. Aware of his problem, he immediately set about solving it. ''I'm essentially an intuitive leader, and you can only be intuitive about something you understand,'' Sculley told Fortune this summer. ''When I first came to Apple, I didn't know enough to be intuitive.'' Armed with the proper mind-set, Sculley quickly filled in the gaps, and his mastery of the personal computer business became obvious during his famous showdown with company founder Steve Jobs in 1985. Given a choice between the two, top executives and board members who had once harbored suspicions about Sculley because of his lack of technical background rallied round him. The Apple chief continues to explore the further reaches of his industry and business life in general. This summer he embarked on a nine-week sabbatical to pursue studies of futuristic technologies and the changing structure of American corporations.

6 Invite dissent. A company run by an effective leader is a place where dissent is desirable. Says Warren Bennis, a professor of business administration at the University of Southern California and longtime leadership scholar: ''The smart ones tend to hire people of youth and vitality, people who are chronic grumblers about the status quo.'' James Burke of Johnson & Johnson is a boss who actively courts fractious types. ''My style is to encourage controversy and encourage people to say what they think,'' he says. That practice paid off during J&J's extended crisis over Tylenol poisoning. Relying on his staff's sometimes noisy advice, Burke seized the initiative when seven people died from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules in 1982. He recalled some 30 million Tylenol packages and sent out new ones with elaborate safety seals. When a poisoner struck again in 1986, Burke pulled all capsules off the market and sold the pain reliever only in tamper-resistant tablet and caplet form. Following Key No. 3, he stayed cool in numerous media appearances in which he explained his efforts and soothed anxious consumers. All the while he was entertaining often sharply differing opinions about what he should do, and he believes he made better decisions as a result. Recalls Burke: ''People yelled and said what they thought, and I synthesized it all. We had a tremendous fight over whether we should go on 60 Minutes.'' Burke allowed CBS cameras into crucial strategy sessions, winning further public support of his efforts to contain the crisis. As president of Xerox's 33,000-person U.S. marketing group, Addison Barry Rand, 43, has amassed an impressive reputation for inspiring his staff. An important element of his success has been an unqualified willingness to accept a variety of opinions and integrate them into his management strategy. Says Rand, who has risen steadily at Xerox since joining the company 20 years ago: ''The higher you get in an organization, the more important it is to have people who will tell you when you are right or wrong. If you have 'yes' people, then either you or they are redundant.''

7 Simplify. Effective leaders possess an extraordinary ability to focus on what is important and reach elegant, simple answers to complex questions. It's not a matter of settling for an easy answer or quick fix, but of zeroing in on essentials. Drew Lewis, 56, now chairman of Union Pacific, has built his career on an exceptional knack for locking onto the most vital parts of a problem and executing deceptively simple solutions. In the 1970s he helped rescue a gaggle of faltering Eastern railroads by forming Conrail. As chairman of Warner Amex, he renegotiated major cable contracts and thereby greatly reduced the company's huge losses. He's at it again with Union Pacific, restructuring and streamlining a company with a big railroad and other diverse holdings. He has already sold assets, entered the waste management business, and reduced the 52,000-person work force by 6,000. Characteristically, he has attacked bureaucracy with special vigor, directing a reduction of management layers in the railroad from nine to four. Lewis is currently involved in perhaps his most difficult and frustrating leadership challenge. As co-chairman, with Robert S. Strauss, of the National Economic Commission, he must help produce a plan for reducing the $150 billion budget deficit. One way would be to cut interest payments, defense outlays, or entitlement programs like Social Security -- which together make up 89% of the federal budget. Another tack: Raise taxes. Congress is sure to resist both (see Politics & Policy), and Lewis's leadership will be on the line.

LEADERS shake things up, which may be one reason we don't have more of them. ''A lot of top executives simply don't want to cope with change, and it becomes harder to move them the more successful their company has been,'' says Eric R. Zausner, a managing director at the consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton. The problem can be especially severe at a large corporation, which may have an entrenched bureaucracy with no recognition of its stake in making change work. Some leadership experts say that is one of the many woes facing top management at General Motors. Chief Executive Roger Smith has fought the problem, trying to inject some spirit into middle managers. But the bureaucracy has fought back. An entire industry can benefit from the brisk shaking up that a leader can provide. If it can happen to a public utility it can happen anywhere -- and it is happening to a public utility. William W. Berry, 56, chief executive of < Virginia's Dominion Resources, sensed early in the Reagan Administration that deregulation would provide expansion opportunities beyond his company's core utility business. So he acquired shares in 14 power plants and projects from Maine to California and is selling electricity to local utilities while seeking to buy cheap power from various sources. Berry continues to push for fewer restrictive federal power regulations, and his efforts may soon change the system to encourage competitive bidding in the buying and selling of power. Why? He answers with the leader's creed: ''I have had a certain reluctance to accept things as they are. The status quo isn't acceptable here.'' The change that Berry advocates would transform this tired monopoly business. MANAGEMENT experts identify other characteristics of leadership that apparently can't be taught, at least not to adults. Today's effective leaders really do care about dealing honestly with the various stakeholders in their company -- employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers. ''This is the type of person who is as good as his word,'' says Frederick D. Sturdivant, senior vice president of the Massachusetts consulting firm MAC Group. ''You would like to think this quality is pervasive, but it's not.'' Drew Lewis, for example, has earned a reputation for displaying a highly refined sense of justice. By all accounts he upheld it during the most controversial chapter of his career, the strike and subsequent firing of air traffic controllers early in the Reagan era, when he was Transportation Secretary. Lewis recommended that the controllers be fired -- yet Robert Poli, head of the defunct union, has singled out Lewis as one of the Administration heavies who took no pleasure from the workers' distress. The leaders we most admire have a sense of balance in their lives. They know when to close the door and go home. Says Sturdivant: ''They simply do not exploit their families. They have real lives away from the office.'' In the end, these personal qualities count heavily when we assess those who present themselves as leaders in business, the political arena, or any other field. When we ask ourselves if someone is worth following, what comes to mind sooner or later is the C word, the character thing.

BOX: 1 Trust your subordinates. You can't expect them to go all out for you if they think you don't believe in them.

2 Develop a vision. Some executives' suspicions to the contrary, planning for % the long term pays off. And people want to follow someone who knows where he or she is going.

3 Keep your cool. The best leaders show their mettle under fire.

4 Encourage risk. Nothing demoralizes the troops like knowing that the slightest failure could jeopardize their entire career.

5 Be an expert. From boardroom to mail room, everyone had better understand that you know what you're talking about.

6 Invite dissent. Your people aren't giving you their best or learning how to lead if they are afraid to speak up.

7 Simplify. You need to see the big picture in order to set a course, communicate it, and maintain it. Keep the details at bay.