I came across an article in Inc. Magazine that reminded me of how much difference a great leader can make. The four traits described in the article, Aspire, Plan, Inspire and Execute, sound somewhat benign on paper. However the stories referred to remind us of what occurs when great leaders step forward and bring these words to life. They remind us that Achieving the Impossible is truly possible.
I recall Don Soderquist, retired COO and Senior Vice Chairman of Wal-Mart giving a speech of a similar title at one of the company’s infamous “Year Beginning Meetings”. I had attended a lot of these meetings over several years association with Wal-Mart. I had heard such speakers as Sam Walton, himself, General Colin Powell, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, but none quite so inspirational as this one.
By this time in the company’s history, Wal-Mart had already achieved the impossible. They had grown to become the largest retailer in the world from their humble beginnings in Bentonville, Arkansas, all while never leaving the this little town or their roots. They had just ventured into the grocery business and into international expansion. What was left? How could they achieve any more? Was there truly anymore to achieve? Then Don steps up and tells several stories, including those about Roger Banister, President Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon and a horse called Secretariat all accomplishing feats that had before been viewed as impossible. He went on to describe how, that once a hurdle of the impossible had been crossed, others went on to achieve similar feats. He rested on the point that it took leadership with all the traits described above for this to happen. I can say with confidence, having worked with him through those years at Wal-Mart and more closely at the Soderquist Center, that Don is a leader who embodied these traits, and was an essential contributor to the success Wal-Mart achieved over the 20 plus years he was there.
Some personal take aways from these reflections:
- Keep on dreaming
- Take Courage
- Share the vision
- Inspire others to join you on your quest
- Help them believe they too can achieve more than they dreamed possible
- Give them the credit
- Share the rewards
- Keep on raising the bar – it inspires the human spirit
The people you work with can and will accomplish more than you or they ever dreamed possible if their leader confidently believes in a vision and in the capability of their people to rise to the challenge to accomplish it.
On a side note: If ever there was a message our nation needed to hear today, this is it. I am concerned that our nation’s leaders are losing sight of and faith in the human spirit and our need for inspirational, visionary leadership, and are prepared to lead us into mediocrity. Let’s make sure that never happens! At least not in the pocket of the world in which you lead.