Archive for the Tag 'leadership'

Ted Turner on Visionary Leadership

Point: Ted Turner’s tips for seeing over the horizon

Story: Many leaders are described as “visionary” — I’m always curious as to how they got that way. Is it something they’re born with, or something we can we all learn?  I had a chance to participate in a Silicon Flatirons Q&A with media mogul Ted Turner as we probed this question with Ted.

Before CNN, people didn’t think that a 24-hour-a-day news channel was viable.  How did Ted prove them wrong? “It helps to see over the horizon,” Ted said.  ‘Most people can’t do it, but I think your brain is like a muscle. And just like any other muscle, you can use it and your brain will improve.”

Ted elaborated: “I have a 128 IQ, but 140 is genius.  I was in the 97th percentile, so that means 3 percent of people were smarter than me. I knew I was going to have to work hard if I wanted to accomplish something in life. So I read a lot — classics, warfare, Alexander the Great — I used my brain all the time. Everything I did was education.  Others just shot the breeze, wasted time — nothing wrong with that, but you can’t get to the top doing that.”

Ted’s answer points to a combination of aptitude and hard work. (I think it’s interesting that Ted thought being in the 97th percentile meant he’d have to work hard if he wanted to accomplish something — it reminded me of Andy Grove’s “only the paranoid survive” philosophy.)

What did Ted see over the horizon? As Ted described it, the idea for CNN was born of his own desire to stay on top of the news but, as a busy executive, not having time to watch the news during the two times a day it was on during the 1970s. “I knew I was gambling with CNN, but I knew it would work,” Ted said. “At the time, the news came on at 6:30 and again at 11pm. I never saw the news — it was inconvenient. I knew that having news on 24 hours a day so you could check in anytime was something that people would want.”

Beyond CNN, Ted was also working to build a multichannel universe. CNN fit into this universe perfectly.  In the 1970s, three broadcast networks — ABC, NBC and CBS — controlled the programming people could see.  For example, sports games across the country were televized, but they couldn’t be seen outside the local area because the broadcasters had a monopoly.  “The broadcasters had carved up the games,” Ted said, dividing the NFL, AFL and Monday Night Football between them. “Everyone paid the same prices and made the same profit. All three networks were happy, but I wasn’t happy” — customers weren’t being served, and incumbents had no incentive to change.

This is where Ted’s reading and habit of learning came into play again. “It was in early 1975 that I saw an article about communications satellites in Broadcasting magazine,” Ted recalled. Reading the article, Ted realized that he could use one satellite “antenna” in space to cover all of North America.  He’d found a way to compete with the established networks.

There’d be more hard work along the way — “We sweated payroll for ten years,” Ted said — but Ted relished the challenges. “The way to lead is with infectious enthusiasm, get everyone enthusiastic about what we’re doing.”

* Fit your current strategy into the larger picture: Ted’s vision for CNN was part of his overall goal to build a multi-channel universe
* Lead with infectious enthusiasm

Silicon Flatirons Q&A November 13, 2009

Call Me Ted, by Ted Turner

3 Comments »Entrepreneurs, How-to, Innovation, interview

Lencioni: Arguing for Innovation

Point: Teams that create the best innovations know how to disagree about ideas without interpreting the disagreement as a personal affront.

Story: “I feel good when I see that engineering, advertising and manufacturing are really surfacing and talking about their differences,” said the VP of Technology at a successful $100 million firm.  “It’s my job to keep the dialectic alive.”

When we see companies moving swiftly, anticipating changes in the marketplace and developing new products or services to meet the change, we’re tempted to think of the company as moving in harmonious agreement toward that new product or service.

But the surprising fact is that companies that innovate the fastest are actually those that invite debate over ideas.  It’s not aPatrickPhoto destructive conflict, but an airing of different views on a topic.  Whereas conflict based on personality differences is destructive, healthy conflict focuses on refining a proposed idea. Healthy conflict gets a team out of group-think. It tests and challenges assumptions. Team members share different points of view.  As Patrick Lencioni, speaking at the 2009 World Business Forum said, “productive debate over issues is good for a team.”  Disagreeing on issues make things uncomfortable but it builds clarity. “If you don’t have conflict on a team, you don’t get commitment,” Lencioni said.  “If people don’t weigh in, they won’t buy in.” When team members challenge assumptions and point out the flaws of an idea, they improve the idea; the end result is a more robust idea.

To ensure that the conflict stays at the level of idea, not personal attack, Lencioni advises using a team assessment.  Using an instrument like Myers-Briggs, team members learn their own communication styles and the styles of others. Knowing each other’s personality style helps avoid personal conflict. If you know that Joe is generally quiet or that Jane always bulldozes in, you’re less likely to take offense at what is actually that person’s communication style.

* Don’t suppress or circumvent conflict – the best ideas are forged during the “working out” of such conflicts.
* Give the team an assessment tool like Myers-Briggs to help member understand each other’s styles communication styles, strengths and weaknesses
* Encourage healthy debate.  Peter Drucker recounted  how Alfred P. Sloan, legendary CEO of GM, handled this:

“Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here,” Sloan said. After everyone around the table nodded affirmatively, Sloan continued: “Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

3 Comments »How-to, Innovation

Bill Clinton & Bill George on Leadership (World Business Forum #wbf09)

Point: Leaders must communicate and connect, which means providing vision and revealing vulnerability

Story: At the World Business Forum last week, former President Bill Clinton was asked about his lessons on leadership.  His answer was threefold: ClintonPhoto

  • It begins with a vision of where you want to go: you have to articulate where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there
  • A leader has to continually communicate and sell the vision
  • Leaders need to understand people, not just policies

That last point about leaders needing to understand people was the comment that was most retweeted during the live-tweeting of Clinton’s talk. It was the point that resonated the most deeply with the audience.

Fittingly, Clinton’s closing comments provided the perfect circle back to Bill George’s opening keynote the day before.  Bill George, former Medtronic CEO under whose leadership the company’s market cap grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, spoke about authentic leadership during a time of crisis.

Being authentic builds trust and helps people understand who you are as a leader.  “In a time of crisis, you bill-georgeBlogPhotoneed people who tell you the truth,” George said.  Authenticity requires strength because it means, at times, revealing vulnerabilities. Although revealing vulnerabilities seems counterintuitive and very hard for leaders who want to seem all-knowing, George has said:

“When you open yourself up to others and share your fears and shortcomings, you connect with people at a deeper level.  Exposing your vulnerabilities is an open invitation for others to share openly with you. In the process, you gain a higher level of support and commitment from people, as well as their respect.”

How much do you share? Bill George offered an example from his own life:  As Medtronics’ CEO, he regularly sent out emails to all the employees about the state and health of the company. In 1996, seven years into his tenure as CEO, George’s wife was diagnosed with cancer.  George found himself writing an email to employees revealing his wife’s personal health rather than presenting the company’s financial health.  To George’s surprise, 18,000 employees (more than half the company) replied to his email, offering their support and sharing their own stories of loved ones who had battled cancer.  “It was a personal connection,” George reflected. “We’re hungry for those connections.”


  • Build personal connections with those you lead
  • Create, communicate, and cultivate a vision
  • Be authentic, revealing both weaknesses and strengths

For More Information

Bill George is the author of the new Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis and bestsellers Authentic Leadership
and True North

Bill George’s blog is at

[Bill George shared the email story during a pre-forum reception he held for World Business Forum Bloggers on Oct. 5, 2009]


2 Comments »Case study, CEO, How-to