2001 Speeches
Jim Albaugh

Jim Albaugh


Space and Communications

"Top Leadership Night"

National Management Association

Long Beach, Calif.

June 28, 2001

Good evening. It's great to be here at the National Management Association's Top Leadership Night and to see so many friends and colleagues from the Southern California locations where I've worked over the past 14 years. The entire NMA leadership team deserves our thanks for the terrific work the association does throughout the year, promoting and fostering management and leadership skills that help us stay competitive.

Top Leadership Night is an event I look forward to every year; I can't think of one I've missed in the 20 years I've been NMA member. Leadership and professional growth are two things I've been giving a lot of thought to over the past few weeks. Earlier this month I gave a talk at the Boeing Leadership Center in St. Louis about what we're doing at S&C to create a common culture and to grow our people. Last week at Le Bourget, I spent a lot of time talking to customers, the media and analysts about the strength of the Boeing leadership team and where we hope to take the business in the future. Since I've been doing so much traveling, I've also been reading a lot on the subject of leadership, which I'll talk about in just a moment.

But before I begin, I want to quickly review something I said to this group last year about the difference I see between Management and Leadership. Some of you will recall I said that managers tend to train people to do the same thing tomorrow as they did yesterday. Managers create an environment that prevents the opportunity for real progress. Managers operate within the existing system or culture instead of trying to change it. Their mantra is: "don't rock the boat" or "that's the way we've always done it."

If that's what managers do, leaders, on the other hand, challenge people to do things better tomorrow than they did them yesterday. Leaders create an environment that encourages risk-taking and embraces innovation. Leaders articulate a vision, sense of mission and strategic direction for change. Rather than clinging to "that's the way we've always done it," leaders ask: "how can we do new things better."

With that distinction in mind, what I'd like to do tonight is share three very different stories of leadership that I've come across recently; take a look at some of the lessons they provide; and then talk about some ways I think we can apply those lessons to cultivate a culture of leadership at Boeing. The three examples I'll use are: the famous, but ultimately unsuccessful Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton; Championship-winning Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (or Coach K); and an anonymous bunch of Seattle fishmongers. That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, I know... but bear with me... it all comes together at the end.

For those of you who aren't familiar with him, Sir Ernest Shackleton has been called the "world's greatest leader, bar none" for saving the lives of the 27 men stranded with him on an Antarctic ice floe for almost two years from 1914 to 1916. One day's sail from its intended destination on the Antarctic coast, Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, got stuck in the ice. Stranded twelve hundred miles from civilization with no means of communication and no one knowing they were missing... in temperatures so low they could hear water freeze... the team watched in horror as the pack ice crushed, swallowed and eventually sank their ship. All they had to rely on were three rickety lifeboats salvaged from the ship, under which they sheltered during four months of polar night.

When the ice began to break up, Shackleton and five of his best men sailed more than a thousand miles to a South Georgia Island and led a return rescue trip. Despite incomprehensible odds, every man survived, thanks in large part to Shackleton's leadership skills.

Here's how biographers -- and Shackelton himself -- have summarized his formula for leadership:

Now on the face of it, Shackleton seems an unlikely candidate for heroism. He'd never led a team larger than about 25. He failed to reach nearly every goal he ever set, including two previous failed South Pole bids, one in 1908 when near-starvation forced him to turn back a heart-breaking 97-miles from his goal. And until recently he has been little remembered after his death. Yet, Shackleton's simple, people-centered approach to leadership can be a guide for many of us in the positions we have.

Because if you think about it, surviving an unforgiving winter near the South Pole, and surviving in today's competitive business climate, aren't all that different. In fact, Shackleton's strategy is pretty close to what Boeing asks its managers to do ... and what Boeing teaches at the Leadership Center:

In short, focus on your people.

Next, let's take a look at Duke basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski -- or Coack "K," as most people call him -- who offers a different example of leadership in his book "Leading With the Heart." Those of you who are hoops fans probably know Coach K and the amazing career he's had at Army, then Duke, where he's gone 606-223 overall in 26 seasons. He's one of only four coaches in NCAA history to win three or more national titles and his postseason record is 80 percent.

Unlike Shackleton, Coach K has managed to achieve recognition while still alive, recently having been inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame. But like the polar explorer, Krzyzewski credits his success as a leader to an ability to maximize the potential of the people on his team. "My goal in the pre-season," he says, "is to get to know my players and what they can do. My total focus is on finding out who we are and developing a personality on our team." During the season, Coach K focuses on the fundamental qualities that make every great team - communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring, and pride. "I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist," he says. "Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable." Finally, he goes on to say, post-season play demands not only flawless execution, but also enthusiasm, discipline and team focus.

Among Coach K's leadership tenets are: A leader's job is to create opportunities. Erect no artificial walls that might limit potential, stifle creativity, or shackle innovation. Good ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. A leader cannot just tell people what to do and expect them to perform well. People have to be given the freedom to show the heart they possess.

Now, I've never been much of a Duke fan -- my team is UCLA -- but I do agree with Coach K's idea that good leaders find ways to empower their teams and maximize people's talents.

The last story I want to tell you is about fish market employees at Seattle's Pike Place Market, who find joy in their jobs and thus are able to please customers and increase sales. If you've ever been to Pike's Place, you know how these guys operate -- say you ask for a salmon, one guys yells down to another guy 20 yards away who literally pitches the thing the length of the stall.

People come from all around to watch these guys at work. Convinced that a positive attitude and sense of "play" is the key to success in the workplace, the traditionally individualistic salesmen have adopted a philosophy of "looking for the best" in themselves and their teammates and "being there" for the group. While you might think that might sound kind of touchy-feely, you'll be surprised to hear that this so-called "Fish" model already is being adopted by some of the biggest businesses in corporate America.

Long-distance phone carrier Sprint, for example, has been able to increase employee retention at customer service call centers by 27 percent using "Fish." Other companies using Fish include Qualcomm, Fidelity Investments and Amazon.com.

I think all leaders can learn something from the Fish model of making work fun (or emotionally rewarding) for their employees. So what do I expect you to make of these wildly different stories? What could an early 20th century adventurer, a modern-day college basketball coach, and Seattle fish-hawkers possibly have to do with Boeing? A lot, in my opinion.

What these stories show us is that while leadership comes in a variety of flavors ... and can be found in circumstances both extraordinary and quite ordinary ... the best leaders focus on people, maximize their potential ... and make work fun and emotionally rewarding. Because as leaders, we don't work for ourselves ... but for those we lead. As leaders, we have to build trust and empower our employees and teammates, giving them the freedom to succeed. As leaders, we should strive for excellence and refuse to tolerate sub-optimization. As leaders, we must inspire our teams to keep their eye on the ball ... focus on delighting customers and find enjoyment in their work.

Pretty simple when you think about it. Tonight I've talked to you about some other folks' models of leadership, but now I'd like to share a few of my own thoughts on what leadership means at Boeing ... some of the things I value in people on my team, and the kinds of things I look for in potential leaders.

Leadership at Boeing means empowering everybody to make the decisions required to execute the business. It means insisting on excellence at all levels and in everything we do ... from quality to safety to customer satisfaction. It means encouraging innovation and embracing change. It means allowing people to fail. It means driving continuous improvement in productivity, efficiency, reliability and cost-reduction. It means creating a culture that rewards these values.

To do that, I look for people to put on my team who:

What I look for in potential leaders is: smart people with a record of accomplishment, a sense of teamwork, a demonstrated success at developing their own employees, and a knowledge of the discipline.

I'd like to conclude this evening with just one more story about great leadership. This one's a story about a propulsion engineer in Canoga Park ... or maybe it's a rocket scientist in Huntington Beach ... or an aeronautical engineer in Long Beach ... or a financial analyst in Seal Beach. Who continually challenges his or her employees to achieve their potential by engaging them in interesting, meaningful work; by providing clear strategic direction and a caring attitude; and by maintaining an interest in their professional development. And who works at a company that -- as a result -- is phenomenally successful, and a lot of fun to work at.

This particular leadership story isn't finished because it doesn't have a hero just yet. I'm hoping it will turn out to be everyone in this room. Thank you.