Companies come and go at a dizzying rate. More than 543,000 new businesses are started in the U.S. each month, and according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only about half of those new businesses survive 5 or more years, and only about one-third make it to 10 years or more.
Some businesses, however, are built to last, and one that has survived--and thrived for more than 100 years--is UPS. The company was founded in 1907 by two teenaged boys named Jim Casey and Claude Ryan, with a bicycle and $100 borrowed from a friend. Today, the company has more than 435,000 employees around the world, and delivers an average of more than 18 million packages and envelopes each and every day.
Like most UPS executives, Ron Wallace--former president of UPS International, and author of the book Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver--started out driving a delivery truck (known as a "package car" within the company), and he worked his way up the organization over the course of his long career. I asked Ron to tell me some of the lessons he learned as a UPS driver--and as the head of the company's entire international operations.
What in your mind makes a great leader?
"I think a lot of different things make a great leader--there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. Truly great leaders have an intense commitment to their job--there's a lot of hard work and smart work, accompanied by some luck. Great leaders have passion for their people and for their companies, and they communicate an inspiring vision of the future. In addition, they have to hold their people accountable--they have to be fair but tough. What makes the UPS company and culture different--and particularly powerful--is our leaders. They make the work environment challenging, interesting, and fun."
What are some common mistakes leaders make?
"Every leader makes mistakes--the key is to learn from our mistakes and to not keep repeating them. One of the most common mistakes I see leaders in all sorts of businesses make is trying to do too much at once, and not bringing in people to help. I also believe it's a mistake to put too much focus on trying to work on their weaknesses--I totally disagree with that. Great leaders use their strengths, and then hire people who have the skills to fill in for their weaknesses. For example, as a manager, I may not know anything about bookkeeping, but I'm not going to take the time to learn all there is to know about it. Instead, I'll hire a bookkeeper."
Why are values so important for leaders--and for the people they lead?
"Values are who you are--the kind of person you are deep down inside. Great employees want to work for leaders who share the same values they do. These include setting a good example, doing things the right way, being in charge, and taking time to help guide, coach, and mentor your people. Great leaders live and breathe their company's culture, and they don't compromise their values for any reason. They lead with integrity. Research shows that integrity is the number-one thing people want in their leaders."
What advice would you give to make anyone a better leader?
"In my book, I explain the importance of investing in your people--giving them the training, the job responsibilities, and the support they need to grow in their jobs, and in their lives. Communication is critical. In a survey of 50,000 CEOs who were asked if their vision had been clearly communicated and was being executed effectively, 80 percent answered said that it was. The response of the team members of those 50,000 CEOs, however, was quite different. Only about 20 percent of them believed the vision was both clear and being carried out. Great leaders are also great communicators."