William A. Cohen, PhD, Major General, USAFR, Ret. on success and leadership


William A Cohen is a recognised expert on leadership The Institute of Leader Arts He runs a leadership training institute and you can see him here

I was very interested to see that a retired soldier was advising about leadership, and looked at the web site which was full of common sense, and challenges the idea that the military is a place of centralised top down decision making. I talked to Videojug.com about this video here being available to Global Entrepreneurship Week which we are supporting: hopefully they’ll agree. Many thanks to Bill for his time.

1 If you could define the level of duty and commitment that a business person should have, what is it ?

If you want to be successful, you must be fully committed to your success. No one will be more committed to your project than you are yourself, regardless of pay or other incentives and this includes employees, joint venture partners, suppliers, and subcontractors. If you aren’t fully committed as an entrepreneur, save your money and do something else.

2. Is it reasonable to expect people to make sacrifices for a business in the same way that soldiers do/should. Is there a difference between the vision that should be presented to inspire soldiers to make sacrifice and business people ?

The level of sacrifice demanded in military operations is of course much higher because of the risk of loss of life. However, the concept is the same. Look at any successful business, whether a local restaurant or what has become Microsoft or an individual such as Donald Trump and you will find both a vision and sacrifices made to achieve that success. There is no “free lunch.”

3. Business could be defined as doing a great job for stakeholders (customers, shareholders (staff, suppliers), society.. Do you agree, is

making a profit a goal capable of inspiring staff.

I was Peter Drucker’s first PhD graduate. Peter believed that profit only provided the resources for the cost of capital and innovation in the business – otherwise profit is a “rip-off” of society. I would add further that while success may include monetary rewards and this can be personally motivating or motivating to others such as investors, you better have more than that or there is not much rationale for the existence of your endeavor.

4. Modern business books often emphasize pragmatism more than principle. Is that a mistake

Some books have always preached success over principle. Does this work? Over the short term, maybe. Over the long term — well, you look in the mirror every morning. You decide what you want to see. Again quoting Drucker: providing prostitutes for visiting business associates doesn’t make you unethical. It merely make you a pimp.

5. It is often said that the younger generation is more introverted, selfish, and consumerist “me now” thinking. Do you agree, if you do is it a problem, if not, why do poeple observe it.

Maybe, but younger people are also more innovative, idealistic, and willing to risk. This isn’t an age thing, it’s a personal thing. General characteristics develop in response to the way a society itself has developed. As a marketer, you can adjust your approach based on what exists and the wants, needs, and demands of your prospects. As a leader, you set the example as you direct and guides others. This is like parenting. It is not what you say, it is what you do that is important.

6. Some countries and cultures are said to be more corrupt than others, yet some supposedly corrupt cultures are quite successful in business terms (Japan, China, Korea, even Italy). Do your theories of leadership have international applicability ? or would you change them for other cultures?

There are no new leadership theories despite what you may hear. There is nothing new in leadership which wasn’t already known by the ancients, and documented in books such as those written by Xenophon. The difference – ancient and modern – and in different cultures, are in application and how these concepts are expressed to an audience that wants to master this topic.

7. the Global Entrepreneurship Week, and other enterprise promotion activities often refer to or appeal in more or less subtle terms to greed and becoming wealthy. Do you think this is a mistake ? should the world change its view of wealth creation or should the promoters of enterprise look for more universal goals than simply “get rich quick”

The motivations designed to appeal to “greed” or to “get rich quick” are designed to sell a course, product, a book, or even an idea. Take a look at the promises and the wording made by politicians running for office and you’ll usually see the same thing. Winston Churchill, one of the most successful politicians of the last century exhorted: “I have nothing to offer you but “blood, sweat, and tears.” – but he said that AFTER he got elected. As I said earlier, personal success may include a monetary component. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most people would rather be wealthy than not and this is logical and reasonable.

8. If a young adult or child is thinking about careers and skills that they will need, what would you advise them to do in order to learn about management and leadership. Rather few jobs will give that type of skill and experience, yet these are vital life skills.

You don’t need to be a manager or a supervisor to be a leader. In fact, people have this backwards. You don’t get to be a manager or a supervisor until you become a leader first. But to be a leader, all you need to do is to raise your hand. In and out of work organizations there are more leadership jobs than can be filled from savings bond salesman, to putting together a meeting. Most don’t want to do these. They are unpaid and there may be little glory in them. But that’s the only way one learns leadership. You can’t learn it from academic courses or books, although both can help to inspire you and give you leadership hints – you have to learn leadership by doing and by yourself.

9. If there were just one or two things that you would like to see changed in the way leadership is taught in both the military and in business, what would it be.

Most people have never been in leadership positions. Where the military differs from most businesses is the assumption that all members must learn leadership. Therefore from day one individuals are taught, first by example and then continually through courses and training. There is an old saying that every private has a marshal’s baton in his knapsack. We don’t have marshal’s in our military, but the concept is the same. Businesses, even large corporations make the opposite assumption – that most employees will not become leaders and therefore don’t need to learn anything about leadership. This is a mistake, even for a small organization. Leadership is so pervasive that even junior employees in small organizations need to be able to practice it and develop along these lines.

10. Apart from Drucker, what business writers and teachers do you admire, and what books should I read/listen to (apart from yours)

There are too many for me to list. As much depends on the reader’s ability to relate to the author and what he is saying as to the material because some worthwhile books and authors are difficult to understand. For example, one of the best leadership books written in modern times is Leadership by James MacGregor Burns. But Burns is a political scientist, not a businessman and his book is more than 500 pages long and difficult to master. If you are looking for a good motivational book, read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, a classic, easy to read with eternal truths presented in a very motivating way. If you want a great book on how one man did it, read How I Made One Million Dollars in Mail Order by E. Joseph Cossman. Drucker wrote 40 books and all of them are worthwhile. Before getting into Drucker however, I would recommend my own book A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management Teacher.

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