A 45 Year View Of Leadership

Flowers purple crocus in the snow, spring landscapeThis past Thursday was the first day of spring and while here in Chicago it still feels like winter, I did see a crocus today. Spring, for me, represents new beginnings.

With that in mind, I am launching a 15 week series entitled “A 45 Year View of Leadership“, honoring my friend, Marshall Carter. Marsh is the current Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and retired Chairman and CEO of State Street Bank. In addition to his corporate leadership roles, Marsh was a military leader and received the Navy Cross and a Purple Heart.

The last time I saw Marsh, he shared that he is a regular reader of this blog and he gave me a document entitled, “A 45 Year View of Leadership“.  He said “do whatever you want with this”. The document is a list of 15 points. Although I wanted to write a book of his stories, this wasn’t something he wanted. So we agreed that I would write this blog series, honoring him instead with my stories that support his words.

Marsh Carter’s Leadership View #1:

Be cautious about applying your own, or someone else’s, successful leadership traits and techniques to different levels of organizations and/or different cultures.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo’s recent pronouncement that all employees must come to the office, is a perfect place to start the discussion about applying your own, or in this case, someone else’s successful leadership techniques. While I have no idea whether this is the right thing for Yahoo or not, what I do know is it may or may not apply to other companies. Yet, because Marissa is CEO of Yahoo, and visible in the press, the CEOs I work with are all asking themselves if they should follow suit.

Which brings us to Leadership View #1, and its key word, culture. What works in one culture may not apply in another. Organizations have a style just like individuals. Some organizations and individuals are more collaborative; other organizations and individuals are more effective with individual contributors. In fact, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingdiscovered in her research that pure introverts whose contributions to an organization are individual, e.g. programmers, are actually more productive when they work from home or in a private office. Studies show their productivity goes down when they are forced to work in shared spaces.

Before we rush into following Ms. Mayer’s leadership techniques, or perhaps our own from a previous situation, I encourage us to pause and follow Marsh’s sage advice in View #1, and ask:

Am I cautious about applying leadership lessons from one situation to another?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

 Elisa K. Spain