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Modern Leadership

I like the way some modern leaders think. Business to me has been far more than financial success, it’s the people involved and the families touched that are important.

Too often, businesses and their leaders get called out for something negative: moving jobs overseas, not treating employees fairly, being at odds with local communities, etc. However, some modern business leaders make the news for displaying positive people focused attributes maybe contradictory to financial returns. These qualities are ones to which we might all aspire in a small way with our businesses. While I have used some American examples below, the ethos of what they done can easily transitioned into our New Zealand SME’s.

They take care of their own:

The attacks of 9/11 hit the American economy hard, especially its airline industry. As a result, most carriers initiated massive layoffs almost immediately after the attack. Southwest Airlines, though, recognized the importance their workforce and, days after the attacks, announced that it would not be laying off any of its employees. As a result, Southwest continued to be a popular discount carrier, gaining customers even as other carriers stripped down their level of customer service.


Most people do not think about transparency when thinking about business leaders or corporate structure, but it turns out that some leaders are paragons of transparency. One example comes from Toyota, who had a potential PR disaster on their hands in 2010 with a recall on brake parts for many of their vehicles. Instead hiding behind a spokesperson, or ignoring the wrath of angry customers, Toyota executives instead put on a Q and A on a social media site. This gave customers a chance to air their grievances and Toyota executives a chance to listen.


When real estate agents blacklisted the Redfin for giving back two thirds of the commission most brokers charge, CEO Glenn Kelman wrote a self-effacing blog revealing the ugly truth about the real estate business. This public baring of his corporate soul has only led to increased business.

Another example of humility is Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, who works out of a small office, answers his own phones, and only (in American terms) collects a salary of $350,000 per year. His humility makes him approachable to employees and has led to employee loyalty in an industry plagued by high turn-over.


The stereotypes usually paint corporations and their leaders as heartless and uncaring. For some leaders, though, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the late 1990s, for example, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz flew to Washington D.C. and met with employees and families alike after several employees were killed in an in-store shooting. Toro, the lawn equipment company, makes compassion a big part of their business model, sending executives to meet with family and friends of those hurt or killed in accidents involving their equipment. The number of lawsuits related to these deaths has dwindled exponentially since they started doing this, but it is also just the right thing to do.

Trusting Employees:

In the late 1980s, TDIndustries was on the verge of bankruptcy. Instead of filing, though, they decided to trust their employees. The company disbursed the retirement fund to all of the employees, with a request that employees would invest the money back into the company. Employees actually invested more than what TDIndustries paid out, and the employee-owned company still thrives today!

Not a bad set of five very nice qualities.

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