By Jon Miller | Post Date: November 16, 2010 10:27 AM | Comments: 0
I watched the movie Inception during a recent flight. It is a film about planting ideas into the minds of businessmen by sneaking into their dreams. This sounds difficult until we consider the film's viewpoint that all existence, awareness and thought is in some ways a dream. The leading character in the film asks:
What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere.
The idea sticks "right in there" as in right in one's head. In fact we are constantly planting or picking up ideas. Ideas are indeed powerful things, capable of transforming us as people and through our action even the world around us.
A recent McKinsey Quarterly article featuring an interview with Jim Owens, the CEO of construction equipment company Caterpillar. Mr. Owens has served Caterpillar for 38 years, as an economist by training who rose through the ranks of accounting to be CFO and has led as chief executive often with just the power of ideas. Here are a few ideas worth nothing from the article:
On the most important lesson he learned as a manager
And I didn't have anybody working directly for me, but I had division managers--from manufacturing, engineering, purchasing, accounting, and our parts and service group--on a committee that I chaired that reported to a group of officers of the company. And working through that dilemma and thinking about how to reposition Caterpillar--and really having to lead with just the power of ideas, because none of these people worked directly for me--was a period of stress and one that I learned a tremendous amount in. And I think, in the end, we got a lot done. And so, you begin to take a lot of pride at what you can get done with leadership without position power.
On his personal leadership style
I very much believe in teamwork and I think a values-based management style that really is as simple as the golden rule. You want to treat people as you'd like to be treated. And if you keep that in mind, and really value and respect other people's opinions, then you can get the kind of teamwork, I think, that it takes to be successful over time in the economy we're competing in today.
On building a corporate culture
Over the recent years I have been very concerned about--we've had some we-they-isms in the culture, particularly when it comes to production workforce and management workforce, union versus non-union, in some of our facilities. And one of the things I really emphasized and recognized is [that] united teams win, divided teams lose.
On his legacy at Caterpillar
I think I will probably be most remembered for the performance of the company in the most difficult and severe recession since 1938. What I'd like to be most remembered for, of course, is the people side of the equation. Great communications, values-based management, walking the talk on our values in action, and a highly ethical company, you know, are the kind[s] of things that I'm probably proudest of. Not probably--I am proudest of.
On the path of economic recovery
We've got to improve our trade balance by increasing our exports--not by becoming protectionists, but by staying open to the world market and aggressively working on [the] global competitiveness of our economy.
On the role of business leaders in wider society
Now, which of these ideas are stuck in your head, giving you power to lead?