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The Greatness That Cannot Be Taught His personal hero. From: Issue 86 September 2004, Page 62 By: David Halberstam URL: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/86/halberstam.html I am highly wary of the self-conscious American cult of leadership. It's not unlike the American cult of dieting. Almost everyone in this country, I expect, would like to be thinner. And even more than thinner, I suspect that everyone would like to be a leader -- every man and woman his or her own Jack Welch. We are the great learn-it-yourself, do-it-yourself society. Everything in life can be gleaned during a short course, or from reading a book. And who teaches at these traveling leadership seminars and writes these leadership books? Successful football and basketball coaches, prominent American military officers, and what might be called the "super CEO." That's a CEO who is so successful and so charismatic that he belongs not merely to the business world but to the world of popular culture, like Welch, or Lee Iacocca before him. (Somewhere out there on the sidelines, there's also that great wannabe-but- never-was Donald Trump, selling himself in good times and bad as the exemplar of the great American dream -- although he's really more like Brazil. He owes the banks so much they dare not let him fail. Say this for Trump, he's always out there hustling. Maybe someday there will be at least one grown-up in the country who takes him seriously.) The problem with our become-a-leader-in-30-days craze is that what worked for Welch and Iacocca is not readily transferable, nor are the secrets of their success easily passed on in a book. I knew Iacocca in his Chrysler days, and he was not only very good at what he did but also equally good -- indeed brilliant -- at personalizing his success. He weaved a national success story, America's comeback against the Japanese, into his own personal autobiography. America's resurgence was Lee, and Lee was America. But I doubt that anyone who was not Lee could learn to be Lee by reading his book. To be Lee, you would need his talent, his superb skills at marketing, his almost unmatchable ego, and his rage to succeed as an Italian-American in the face of the prejudice he encountered as a young man (a rage that, by the way, also helps explain the success of another great figure of the cult of leadership, Vince Lombardi). I think you had to be Lee in order to be like Lee; I don't think you could be Lee through study. And I doubt that Lee's brand of leadership is readily transported to other business situations.
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That's also true for the generals we lionize as leaders. The lessons that men such as Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell drew upon came from careers spent studying other men who had gone before them in their own profession. (The tough, hands-on Schwarzkopf is the lineal descendant of Grant and Patton. If he were a manufacturer, he'd be right there on the factory floor. The cool, controlled Powell, so subtle in estimating
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