I just finished David Magee's book “Turnaround,” the story of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. recent resurrection.
As I read on, I thought about the daunting task of re-inventing a company that had $22 billion of debt, declining market share and had lost money in seven of eight years.
What superhero would even consider trying to fix this Japanese auto company? The man who did was a non-Japanese speaking Brazilian named Carlos Ghosn who took the helm of Nissan when French auto maker Renault SA bought it.
We know the “turnaround” lead by Ghosn not only succeeded, it succeeded ahead of schedule. But have you ever thought about how this man (or any man or woman) becomes a leader?
Are they born that way? Are they simply lucky or charismatic? Is it hard work? Did they have a teacher or mentor, superior intelligence or just common sense? Probably when you really look deeply into all this, you will find some of all of the aforementioned. There is no recipe book for leadership, no road map showing the express lanes, no silver bullet, no magic potion. You get the message.
As I read the book, my thoughts went back to Alfred Sloan, the legendary leader of General Motors in the first half of the 20th century. How did he become such a successful leader? Then I thought about myself.
I, in no way, mean to compare myself to these greats, but having been the managing partner of a successful CPA firm, I know the feeling of loneliness and fear of being responsible not only for my own well being but that of my partners, employees and their families.
I remember the day the managing partner of George B. Jones and Co. told me he no longer wanted the job, and that one of my other partners and I should take over his management responsibilities. A transition period, that was to last six months, instead lasted less than six weeks. Here I was put in a position of leadership of a firm that was at the time struggling financially and with low morale permeating its ranks.
I had no training on how to deal with such a situation. I was a CPA, a technician, not a leader; not even a businessman. What should I do now? Who could or would help me out of this dilemma?
At about this same time, our firm engaged The Pacific Institute to teach us how to think differently. The Seattle-based institute did indeed teach me to do that, but they provided no solid answers.
However, the flywheel did begin to move. I knew enough to know what I didn't know. I started looking for help. I was sure the answers to my problems could be found in a single silver bullet — a single book. After all I was (and am) a technician trained to think analytically.
I heard about a book. I'll call it “Like a Goat in the Ocean,” which is not its real title. Yes this was a book that would take someone like me, who was ill-suited to be in the place in which I found myself, and teach me how to be successful in my new world.
I hoped one book, this one, would solve all my problems. Did it have all the answers? No. Did it have answers to any of my questions? No. I was disappointed. But, in a way, it did solve many of my problems. My disappointment with the book and its message showed me there is no short cut to leadership.
Leadership is built block by block on a solid foundation. The Pacific Institute became my foundation and this book showed me that a foundation, no matter how strong, is just the beginning. If leadership development interests you, stay tuned for next month's column.
Don E. Ray is a CPA with the Dixon Hughes Dealer Services Group. He's at 901-684-5643 and [email protected].