312. Change Leadership and Change the World
He was a young turk, an MBA from the top of his class at Harvard Business School, flying all over the U.S., firing people for a living. “Frankly, it was turning my stomach,” he recalls. He was dashing to meet his wife and two young children for Christmas in Chicago when he couldn’t ignore his inner voice any longer.
Bob Vanourek is a leadership expert, an award-winning author, and a popular speaker on ethical leadership. He is the former CEO of five companies. His latest book is “Leadership Wisdom: Lessons from Poetry, Prose, and Curious Verse,” a compilation of poems and prose passages with timeless leadership messages, as well as commentary and practical applications from Bob. He is also the co-author of the award-winning book, “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations.”
How Did You Start Using Your Talents?
After graduating at the top of his class at Harvard Business School, and a stint as an officer the Army, Bob recalls, “I joined a very hot IPO that was acquiring companies. We were a bunch of young turks, MBAs, getting on airplanes every Sunday, flying out to these acquired companies, flying back on Friday, going into our office all day Saturday, then flying out again on Sunday. What we were doing, basically, was consolidating the companies we had acquired. That meant closing the plants, laying off the work force and, in some cases, terminating the founders of those companies. And, I must tell you, it was turning my stomach. I knew all the spreadsheet and accounting stuff, and the marketing and strategic planning stuff. But something in me was saying, “This is not right!”
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
After four years on that first job as a Harvard MBA, Bob recounts, “I was flying from Cleveland to Chicago, our hometown at the time. My wife was on a plane from Los Angeles to Chicago with our two young sons, because I didn’t have time to go back to L.A. to meet her. She and the kids were flying to meet me for a family visit for Christmas. And I’m asking myself, “What am I doing?” So, we had a long conversation in Chicago, and I said, “This is not right. I’m going to quit this job and find a better way to be a leader.” Bob’s career-long pursuit of excellence in leadership had begun.
The Most Powerful Lesson Learned?
“You can’t just rely on what you learned in college or graduate school, you have to leave yourself open to continual learning. Learning new ways of leadership is a life-long process. Reading Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay, The Servant as Leader, was a mind- flip for me. The leader serves. The only people who can determine whether you are a leader are followers who are following you willingly, not those who are begrudgingly complying with your edicts; that’s not following, it’s just obeying.”
Steps to Success from Bob Vanourek
1. Clearly and intentionally define your personal values and ethics. This will keep you off many slippery slopes.
2. Learn how to lead yourself first, before attempting to lead anyone else.
3. Commit yourself to being a life-long learner, applying what you learn.
4. Learn the “three E’s” of effective leadership: excellent, ethical, enduring.
On His Bookshelf
“What is Servant Leadership?” by Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, Atlanta, GA.
Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, by Bob and Greg Vanourek
Leadership Wisdom: Lessons from Poetry, Prose and Curious Verse, by Bob Vanourek
Connecting With Bob Vanourek
LinkedIn: Bob Vanourek
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