David Metzen, former superintendent of South Saint Paul's School District, is chairman of the board of regents for the University of Minnesota. I had an opportunity to sit down with him for a conversation about leadership recently. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Are leaders born or made?
They are made. I feel very strongly about that. It’s a myth that they are born. People usually get ahead through hard work. Successful people are always learning and growing. The ones who are stuck in the past are the ones who quit learning and growing.
By nature, people want to be liked. How important is ‘being liked’ to successful leadership?
I went down that road of wanting to be liked and it is a recipe for failure. What you want is to be respected. Being liked will not take your company to where you want to be. I started out as a 28-year-old principal, wanting everyone to like me. But it doesn’t work. I also made a mistake in trying to make people happy. All you can do is create the environment. You can’t be an enabler to people.
What advice would you have for a mid-level manager who wants to be the CEO someday? What should they do to get that promotion?
First, you have to be authentic. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses. And you have to work hard. You have to keep learning and growing. You should hook onto a mentor or someone you really respect. Try to shadow that person, learn as much as you can. Set goals for yourself, and if you are in an organization where there aren’t any spots for you in senior management then you might want to start looking for a different organization.
You are the chairman of the board of regents of a major, land-grant university. You also serve on the board of a bank. What do you expect from the relationship between the University and industry?
The most important thing for industry to understand is how important it is to have an educated population. Look at the state of Minnesota. One of the only things we have to offer is a smart, hard-working population. The day we stop producing smart people will be the day we won’t exist as a state. I think we have been riding on the coattails of the investment our parents made in the 1960s. All the wonderful companies we have here are the direct result of having smart, hard-working people.
Who do you identify as outstanding leaders of our time, and why?
Thinking way back, I think of Bill Norris, who ran Control Data. History has proven that he had a vision back in the last 1960s, early 1970s, as a person who looked at the welfare of his employees, looked at daycare issues, looked at places in Minneapolis that needed jobs. He was a visionary who I really respected. Another leader is a person by the name of Tom Swain who was chief of staff to Gov. Elmer Andersen. He has given back to his community for over 50 years. He’s 84 years old. But if you look around, the Twin Cities has been blessed with some very wonderful leaders. People like the Daytons, who have given back to their community.
What would you say about the need to weigh the need to make a profit against the desire to give back to the community?
It’s a balance you have to achieve. You can’t give back unless you have a profit. So you first have to make a profit. You have to care about your employees and make sure the place is profitable. After that, look at a formula. I think the Dayton-Hudson organization for years had a formula of giving back 5 percent to the community. It’s up to each company to ascertain what their comfort level is.
Any final thoughts on leadership?
The most important thing is that you have to keep learning and growing. That’s part of leadership. One thing I want to emphasize is that either you are getting better or you are getting worse as an organization. If you are living in neutral, you are getting worse. The good organizations, even during tough times, are always investing in their people. With all due respect to technology, it really gets down to hiring the right people. Jim Collins wrote a wonderful book, “From Good to Great.” He talks about ‘the bus’ and getting the right people on the bus, the right people off the bus, getting people in the right seat on the bus. Then we decide where we are going to go. That makes good sense to me. The real tremendous organizations are always investing in their people, trying to make them better.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
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