Owner’s Manual | Jeff Haden
What’s your mission?
If you can’t answer that question,
all the charm in the world won’t
inspire people to follow you
Passion and charisma might make you more fun to work
for (at least, for a while), but they alone can’t make you the
kind of leader everyone wants to follow. For that, you need
a strategy made of more lasting stuff.
To identify that elusive stuff, I talked with Jim Whitehurst
(left), president and CEO of the $1.1 billion open-source software
company Red Hat. Before joining Red Hat, Whitehurst was the
COO of Delta Airlines as it emerged from bankruptcy.
Most people who are widely
considered to be great leaders are
also seen as highly charismatic.
Possibly so, but charisma goes only so far,
especially if you’re leading a big company.
As an employee, I can get inspired by a
great session with my boss, but that
quickly wears off, and a few weeks later,
I forget why I’m getting out of bed.
Great leaders lay out a mission.
Some are charismatic, others not, but
every great leader creates a sense of
mission that doesn’t rely on force of
personality to sustain.
That’s easy: Isn’t the mission always
just to make the company money?
Absolutely. But that’s not inspiring.
A mission has a larger meaning. Delta
was and is an institution, and when it
was struggling, we were on a mission to
ensure it didn’t fail on our watch. At Red
Hat, our mission is to provide free content and functionality and information to
people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
Every great leader helps all employees
feel their job plays an important role in
something bigger and more meaningful.
It’s hard to extend a sense of mission
to all levels, though. When I was an
entry-level factory worker, I felt my only
mission was to get out the door on time.
At Delta, I felt there had been too much
focus on air travel as a commodity.
When the entire focus is on cost and
price and you are a flight attendant or
mechanic, you’re basically being told
you don’t matter. I used Starbucks as
an example: a low-cost operation—
paper cups, customers bus their own
tables, etc.—but a high-class experience, because its employees make it
Even though we weren’t serving steaks
in coach, by being intensely customer
focused, we could still deliver a high-class
experience to our passengers.
A lot of business owners feel
their sole mission is to enforce
Good leaders do want their employees
to feel accountable. Great leaders feel
accountable, too, but they feel even more
accountable to their employees.
Every year, we hold a huge Red Hat
party, and I see our employees and
their families and think, Holy crap;
I’m responsible for all these people.
It’s a great reminder that every single
decision a leader makes has more than
just professional repercussions.
I feel accountable to Red Hat
employees, but not just for my performance: I’m accountable for explaining
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results, for explaining my decisions,
for apologizing if things don’t go well.
I spend way more time explaining decisions and results to our employees than
I do to our board.
So, show you’re accountable to
me and I will feel accountable to you—
and a lot more motivated?
Engagement is everything, and that’s
especially true with knowledge workers.
You worked in production, so you
know because of the nature of the work
an energized and jazzed line employee
can be, at most, maybe 20 percent more
productive than an average worker. An
inspired creative/knowledge employee
can be 10 times more productive.
The difference is not incremental; the
difference is exponential.
Even though you’re steeped in
operations, you talk a lot about emotions.
We often say emotional like it’s a bad
word. Inspiration, enthusiasm, motivation, excitement—those are emotions,
too. Why would you want employees to
check those emotions at the door?
Use the power of positive emotion.
Be authentic. Connect. Provide meaning
and context to the company’s mission,
and make sure all of the employees know
the specific role they play in achieving
Ultimately, your job is to get people
to do what you want them to do. When
your employees believe in what they’re
doing, they’ll walk through walls for
you—and your job is really easy.
MISSY McLAMB/COURTESY SUBJECT
Jeff Haden is a frequent Inc. contributor and ghostwriter who likes to interview smart entrepreneurs.