December Surprise

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Timing is Overrated

The best leaders start their organizations at the worst possible times. "You are called when you are needed most -- when it’s really worth it -- not when it’s most convenient," said Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, beaming with enthusiasm and patting me on the back. Mulally looked out the window at his company. "The honor is to serve!"

This courageous leader didn’t just accept a job at Ford; he leapt at a huge opportunity to make a difference when the company and his country needed him most.

Visionaries have a surprising knack for diving in at the least propitious times. When you actually look at the environment in which they embraced their organizations, they chose the worst. Everyone prefers to think they had it easy and perfectly set. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Tom Watson at IBM -- and even Thomas Edison when he created his vision for General Electric -- all launched their dreams in miserable markets. FedEx, Sports Illustrated, Hyatt, Wikipedia, MTV, Trader Joe's arrived just in time for awful recessions that defeated many other organizations. Even Google incorporated just in time for the tech bubble to burst at the end of the last century.

Wang Chuanfu started a batterymaker called BYD (Build Your Dream) after the dot-com crash when no one cared about the ex-professor's fantasy of a green, emission-free electric car. Warren Buffett bought 10% of BYD last year, making Chuanfu a billionaire and China's richest person.

Many long-lasting organizations not only were born in bad markets, they also had lackluster products in the beginning. The list of short-lived, false starts for great companies is very, very long.

There are plenty of legendary examples. Sony's first product, a rice cooker, was unreliable. Its first big launch, a tape recorder, also failed. One of Fortune's most admired companies in 2010, Marriott, didn't start as a hotel; it was an A&W root beer stand! Proctor & Gamble began as just one of 18 candle makers in Cincinnati. Hewlett Packard proudly launched a product to make urinals flush automatically and a ‘shock' machine for dieters that were both a bust. Boeing's first planes bombed, literally flunking their Navy trials.

After inheriting his dad's $2 million shortening business in India, with fits and starts in the soap business and even hydraulic cylinders, Azim Premji eventually converted Wipro into a $5 billion technology powerhouse. His personal net worth is $17 billion.

What do these great organizations have in common? Leadership. Even if you have a mediocre start and bad timing, a great leader with a great team will prevail over those who have a mediocre team in any market. In fact, it's in difficult economic environments that your efforts as a leader stand out.

Why? In tough times, your competitors are focused on survival, not your customers. They pay less attention to quality, they slash back service and invest less in innovation, and there are more great people actually available to work for you.

It's usually in a crisis that organizations reconnect with what made them great in the first place. It's a time to re-ignite your spirit and find better ways to delight customers.

Your willingness to lead effectively can have a greater impact on the success of your team or your organization than any other single factor. Everything that you do to become a more effective leader has a multiplication effect on your entire organization.

To be successful as a leader, you need a combination of two things: character and competence. You need to be person who believes in what you're doing.

The above is an excerpt from the book Now . . . Build a Great Business!: 7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in Any Market by Mark Thompson & Brian Tracy. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Nobody Does It Alone

No one does anything worthwhile entirely by themselves. As a leader, your job is to get results through others. You treasure your team as if they were volunteers -- because they are! Even if you pay them, your best people are free agents who could do anything anywhere else. Your team doesn’t have to work for you. So, the Big Question is, Why should they be working for you? Make it your business to hold yourself accountable to answering that question every day.

Since every person is different in some way, often in many ways, the very best leaders are those who have the greatest flexibility in their styles of working with other people. Your ability to get the very best out of the people who report to you is a key measure of your effectiveness as a leader. "I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, but when it comes to managing people, you actually do have to discriminate," said 49er hall of famer and entrepreneur Steve Young.

"No two people respond the same way to your call to action. You to encourage some people very gently, while others you have to scream at." When you take the time to think about whom you are working with and what it is you need for them to do, you are more likely to use the best tools, techniques and methods to maximize the performance and productivity of the other person.

And as you commit yourself to action, you’re developing the ability to elicit extraordinary performance from ordinary people. You want a team that:

1) Owns the outcomes -- has skin in the game -- a vested interest in thinking, analyzing and delivering better results than ever before;

2) Builds confidence in others -- and isn’t meek accepting or doing the job, but is turned on by the opportunity to prove something or have greater impact;

3) Understands what's in it for them in everything they're asked to do;

4) Demonstrates full engagement, and needs to have a voice and to be heard; and

5) Gets paid more, but is worth more, and has more options open and more untapped potential than ever before.

It's often said that the very best leaders are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Great leaders elicit extraordinary performance from ordinary people. The purpose of a business or an organization is to maximize strengths and make weaknesses irrelevant. Your ability to bring together a group of people and form them into a high performance team is the most important single quality you can develop for maximum results and continuous personal and professional growth.

But here's an important caveat. "You might have to tell people to suck the egg," said Major General Gale Pollock (ret), the first woman to serve as Surgeon General of the Army. "You don't have to tell them how! If you order people to do something that they don't understand, they won't give it all they've got."

"The greatest performances and courage come when you show them why it matters," she told me shortly after her retirement from the U.S. Army. "I've been amazed at how people will solve problems when you set the general direction but let them use their creativity to get it done -- often much better than I would have ever imagined."

© 2012 Mark Thompson and Brian Tracy

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Mark Thompson, co-author of Now, Build a Great Business!: 7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in Any Market, and coauthor of the bestseller Success Built to Last, is a serial entrepreneur who sold his last company for $100 million and today coaches executives on how to lead growth companies. He is a venture investor who Forbes noted for having the "Midas touch:' He was Chief Customer Experience Officer at

Schwab, reporting directly to founder Charles Schwab, and is a former director of many firms, including Best Buy and Korn Ferry. He is a member of the board of the Leader to Leader Institute, founded by Peter Drucker, and a visiting scholar at Stanford University. He lives in Manhattan and Silicon Valley.

Brian Tracy, co-author of Now, Build a Great Business!: 7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in Any Market, is one of America's leading authorities on the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. In addition to being a remarkably successful entrepreneur, he is a dynamic and inspiring speaker, addressing thousands of people each year in companies such as IBM, Ford, Federal Express, Hewlett Packard, Pepsi, Northwestern Mutual, and hundreds of others worldwide. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling How the Best Leaders Lead and Eat That Frog, and the author/narrator of many popular audiocassette programs. He lives in Solana Beach, California. For more information please visit

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