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Leaders Possess a Deeply Embedded Sense of Purpose
By Timothy F Bednarz

Many of great leaders included within my research universally started their careers as ambitious individuals. They didn’t limit themselves to simply working to sustain themselves. They knew opportunities would present themselves if they worked hard and remained patient.

They had a deeply embedded sense of purpose. Unlike many other young people, who tended to view entry-level jobs with distain, these individuals took their obligations seriously, and viewed their responsibilities as a way to prove themselves.

Michael Dell (Dell Computers) began washing dishes at the age of twelve. Warren Buffett sold newspapers, as did Curtis Carlson (Carson Companies). Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) began his career selling magazines as a youth.

They always did their best no matter how small the task, were attentive to details, and were diligent in making themselves indispensable to their employers. Their work ethic did not go unnoticed, and they were often rewarded with promotions and additional responsibility.

Andrew Carnegie’s (Carnegie Steel) diligence as a telegraph operator caught the attention of Thomas Scott, Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, of whom Carnegie became a protégée. This relationship facilitated his growth and presented him with many investment opportunities that became the basis of Carnegie’s wealth.

Concerning a lifelong work ethic, John Jacob Astor stated,

“The man who makes it the habit of his life to go to bed at nine o’clock usually gets rich and is always reliable. Of course, going to bed does not make him rich-I merely mean that such a man will in all probability be up early in the morning and do a big day’s work, so his weary bones put him to bed early. Rogues do their work at night. Honest men work by day. It’s all a matter of habit, and good habits in America make any man rich. Wealth is largely a result of habit.”

The outcome of this work ethic contributed to the development of the Legitimacy Principles in their lives. This was essential to their future success. It would ultimately provide them with the ability to take advantage of future opportunities.

Olive Ann Beech (Beech Aircraft) said:

“If you enjoy your work, all you have to do is be capable and take the pitfalls along with the good… “

Without the foundation of the Legitimacy Principles established early in their careers, they would not have been able to summon the support of others that they would require to take advantage of new and emerging opportunities.

Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) often observed,

“Becoming successful was easy. All I did was ask our people to work half a day, I don’t care which, the first half or the second half”

Another contributing factor to their early success was a devotion to learning outside of the workplace, which allowed them to increase their personal value by mastering new skills and expertise.

These individuals studied everything they could get their hands on to develop personal mastery of a variety of subjects, but they especially focused on the topics that directly related to their work.

  • Carnegie was a prolific reader and used his knowledge to overmatch and outwit his competitors.
  • Henry Ford and Michael Dell acquired knowledge by taking things apart and rebuilding them.
  • Edison and Westinghouse devoured scientific journals for insights and usable ideas.

The evidence clearly supports that the majority of great leaders are lifelong learners. In some cases, such as Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) and Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), both were obsessed with learning and investigating everything they could about their business, markets, competition and customers. They even went so far as to share their knowledge with each other.

For more information on this topic, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. is the author of the 125 books included in Pinpoint Skill Development Training Series. He has also authored “Great! What Makes Leaders Great,” which was selected by “Foreword Review Magazine” as one of the top ten career books published in 2011, as well as a finalist in the “2011 Foreword Review Book of the Year Awards.”

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