Whatever the setting–Boy Scouts, school, the army, business, the church–I saw the leader as being the most influential person. He was the one who got things done as he climbed the ladder of power.
My first significant experience in leadership came courtesy of McDonald’s in 1966. Fresh out of high school, I worked as an assistant manager in one of Ray Kroc’s original restaurants in Southern California. I channeled all my energies into the task of being the best-up-and-coming manager. By day I helped manage a fast-paced business; at night I worked on a degree in business management.
My understanding of leadership at that time could have been summarized by a straightforward, unadorned idea: You’re a leader when you’re in charge, when people work for you and you call the shots. This was the code I lived by every day. A leader was the person who made it all happen. This was the code I lived by every day. A leader was the person who made it all happen. He played the fiddle to which others danced. Being the leader was perhaps the best hedge I knew against my fear of leading an inconsequential life.
I also developed a hard-nosed, aggressive style of motivating people, one that produced the most efficient results. In a business where quality, cleanliness, and speed are crucial, this style was rewarded and praised. I quickly became known as a manager who wouldn’t let an employee get away with much. If someone didn’t perform well, I let him or her go–as many as nine people in a single day! Somewhere in the back of my mind, though, I wondered whether there were better ways to influence people. So I turned to my studies all the more earnestly.
In my business classes and textbooks, I hoped to encounter the model of truly effective leadership. I wanted something like a blueprint to manage and motivate people, and the business department of a university seemed to be the logical place to look. While my classes were stimulating, the foundational principle seemed quite similar to the one I applied every day on the hamburger line: A good leader is the guy who gets people to do what he wants done.
More to come in Part 2!