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Author Le Herron Author Le Herron

Today's crisis makes a CEO's book even more timely

When retired CEO Le Herron published his insights on leadership in Making Your Company Human: Inspiring Others to Reach Their Potential (LSK Books, 2006), it didn't exactly set the business world on fire. Major media yawned, other CEOs famed for leadership shrugged, and most business school profs didn't even respond. Those who became enthusiastic about its messages were business school students, professionals interested in building their business, and — to be sure — the people who had been part of the successful company Le Herron led, O.M. Scott & Sons.

More business and political leaders should have paid attention, since Mr. Herron's advice covered several of the factors contributing to today's financial woes:

Astronomical CEO pay. (pages 12-13)

Most companies do a good job of judging the financial worth of lower positions. It's time to be more realistic about the relative worth of senior management.

"Ego is the culprit here: whoever earns the most must clearly be the best. To make sure everyone gets the message, some CEOs also demand that their contracts include memberships to prestigious clubs, personal jets, yachts, houses and apartments, and so forth. These expensive symbols say, 'Hey, look at me! I'm the top dog!'

"Adding to the problem are contractual 'golden parachutes' that provide a handsome payout if the company fails or the executive is dismissed. Many of today's compensation packages all but eliminate risk for CEOs. In other words, those with the most responsibility for making decisions are hurt the least if they bungle it.

"Boards of directors rationalize compensation inflation with the argument that 'If we want to attract the caliber of CEO we need, we have to pay this much.' Why doesn't someone on the board say, 'Wait a minute! How can just one person save our entire company? Isn't it going to take the entire workforce?'"

The need for leadership. (pages 18-19)

Unfortunately, recent examples of CEO excess show leaders who are at the front of the line with their hand out, oblivious to whether anybody else gets a fair share of the pie. These CEOs have the idea of leadership completely backward.

"My eyes were opened to this in an embarrassing way. Soon after being commissioned as a young Army officer near the start of World War II, I came back to camp with my troops, tired and hungry, and got in the mess line. An old sergeant came over and took me aside. I’ll never forget what he said.

"'Lieutenant,' he told me, 'when your men have been fed, if there's any food left, then you will eat. And after all your troops have been bedded down, if there's a place for you to lie down, then you will sleep.'

"[...] In all the business seminars and lectures I have attended, and all the books and magazines I have read, I have never seen a better explanation of the responsibility of leadership."

Overindulgence in debt. (page 117)

When I was stepping into a CEO position for the first time… my departing predecessor, who had become my mentor and selected me to succeed him, said one of the wisest things I have ever heard in my years in business. 'Young man,' he told me, 'make yourself financially independent.'

"He went on to explain that he didn't mean for me to become wealthy, but to put enough in the bank to be able to bridge a period if I should lose my job. By removing the fear of being without a paycheck, this would allow me to say and do what I felt was right...

"It's saddening to see so many capable individuals spending the next paycheck before they get it, and being prevented by their debt from being their own person. If your company takes a position you don't agree with, or it has no position on a subject you feel strongly about, you can't let yourself be controlled by fear of losing your job."

Where Detroit went wrong. (page 124)

'Learning to work together with others' is probably the closest thing to a business success formula that I can conceive of. There's room in this formula for all the personal ambition you might have. Ambitious people working together will have a greater chance of attaining personal success, as their common enterprise succeeds. On the other hand, those who can't work together will probably end up sharing their failures together.

"(Imagine the difference if the forces in the auto industry, for example, had learned to work together instead of surviving only through confrontation.)"

SPECIAL OFFER: Just $12.50!

Like to find out more about this exceptional leader's philosophy in Making Your Company Human? This 153-page hardcover book is $24.95 on Amazon.com, but you can buy it for half price from me — including shipping!

To order at the special price, send a check for $12.50 to Sherry Christie, 117 Kelley Point Road, Jonesport, ME 04649. Please allow 2-4 weeks for delivery.

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