Leadership as a Verb

Upon Receiving the 2004 'Executive of the Year' Award From the National Management Association
Remarks By Robert J. Stevens
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Lockheed Martin Corporation
New Orleans, LA - 01-NOV-04

I am truly honored to be named Executive of the Year by this prestigious organization and -- in the presence of so many outstanding leaders here today -- more than a little humbled.  To be included among the highly accomplished leaders who have received this award in previous years is indeed a great privilege. 

The National Management Association is one of this country’s great leadership assets, and I accept this honor on behalf of the 130,000 employees of the Lockheed Martin Corporation.  And, considering the fact that I have been CEO of the company for all of 13 weeks now, I must say I am very encouraged by your confidence in my future prospects.

I thank you very much for this singular honor.  I would like to use our time together to share a few thoughts – a more personal view of leadership – based on the observations of both leaders and followers ... and ... successes and failures.

Let me begin with an important architectural distinction.  In my experience, there is a critical difference between leadership and management, although in our busy daily executive lives, the demands for each are often fused together in the compression of time and action. 

Management is primarily about dealing with complexity; the rule seems to be the more complexity we deal with, the higher our level of management.  To responsibly manage complexity, a solid framework is absolutely vital: You might think of “good procedures.”  Structured.  Thoroughly tested. 

Effective management is based on applying and refining good process – that’s where we spend considerable time as professionals – and it is a very necessary component of the successful enterprise.  Make no mistake:  Conceptualizing, developing, and launching a rocket and spacecraft called “Stardust” to proceed on a 7-year, 3-billion-mile mission to intercept the comet Wild-2, traveling through our solar system at 14,000 mph, to converge on that comet within 146 miles (which is an orbital control accuracy equivalent to driving a golf ball from here in New Orleans and sinking a hole-in-one in Orlando), take photos, collect samples, and return them safely to Earth for scientific study, takes rigorous processes.  As does building advanced aircraft, electronics, information systems, and everything else we all do.  And it is good.  Our customers expect this of us -- and this process discipline is highly valued in our executive lives.

Leadership, in the alternative, is about dealing with change ... and change is only brought about by people – and people are not inspired, or energized, or motivated, by process or procedure.  People move to values, vision, principles, basic beliefs about who we are.  I do.  You do. 

People will drive for change, not so much based on the “what” we do, or even the “how” we do it ... but more on the “why.”  We go to the comet Wild-2 with a profound sense of discovery that we can take our skills as scientists and engineers and add to the fundamental understanding of human kind: where we have been ... where we are ... and where we are headed.  That is the vision that motivates a sustained multi-year commitment that leads to mission success on the Stardust probe.  Of course, effective enterprises need both management and leadership, and effective executives know how to manage and how to lead.

But the organizational environment of leadership is also dramatically changing.  We all know the familiar model.  Leaders sit at the top of a pyramid above the organization, because they are smarter.  That’s where the world gets figured out.  That’s where plans are formed, resources allocated, direction set.  Not hardly.  Certainly not in the 21st century -- and probably not ever. 

The only reason the notion of a pyramid existed at all was to crudely emulate an information flow process such that some group would have enough aggregate information compiled over time so as to see enough of the whole picture to take some action.  In the Industrial Age – maybe, but certainly not in the Information Age.  We no longer have a pyramid but an arrayed network, where leadership performs best at the front where the action is, not the top.

These flattened, networked organizations offer new leadership challenges and opportunities, and it is not too early to draw a few conclusions.  Authoritarian approaches based on ownership and turf have seen their sunset.  This concept is brittle structurally, and out of step with the strength and character of individual contribution.  People within your area of responsibility are, in fact, not your people.  They do not belong to you ... they do not belong to the company.  They are individuals, independent, and they do have many alternatives.  A “my way or the highway” attitude is very likely to drive your very best talent to the open road. 

Thinking that employees serve the leaders of the organization is, to me, upside down ... it’s leadership that serves employees.  The best leaders I’ve known -- the ones that I admire most -- were the ones who placed the organization’s interests above their own – and in doing so, did not regard their actions as sacrifice ... but as service. 

This model is to be celebrated.  And it is not a new notion.  A half-century ago, the legendary British Field Marshal Sir William Joseph Slim would greet new leaders in his command by saying:  “I tell you as officers, that you will neither eat, nor drink, nor smoke, nor sit down, nor lean against a tree until you have personally seen that your men have first had a chance to do these things.”  Now I’m not entirely up to speed on my “tree leaning,” but I understand what Sir William was saying.  Leaders do best when they create an environment where the work of the enterprise can be done by serving the people who do the work.  It is a privilege to place service over self-interest, and it is a duty that we, as leaders, have to the organization and its people. 

Discharging this duty takes much energy and has reinforced, in my mind, that leadership is best viewed as a “verb.”  Engage fully.  Listen actively.  Mobilize quickly.  Seize the initiative.  Adapt with agility.  Persevere in the face of adversity.  And celebrate the victories with those who have earned them.

That sounds like a lot to expect and, at Lockheed Martin, we expect even more.  Circumstances demand it.  Employees deserve it.  We need “full spectrum” leaders – those who are rock-solid on performance – they get results, meet objectives, and put numbers on the board – while exhibiting strong leadership behavior – display great interpersonal and communication skills that encourage and guide employees, stimulate and advance teamwork, inspire trust and energize others, and represent the company well to a diversity of outside constituencies.  Leaders must have both attributes, performance and behavior, not either/or.

At Lockheed Martin, we want:

... highly principled and ethical people who place a high priority on honesty and integrity, both in their personal and professional lives ...

... advocates for diversity who actively foster an inclusive environment where individual respect and teamwork matters ...

... disciplined hard workers who are fearless in their pursuit of excellence and who demonstrate great pride and loyalty toward their organization ...

... “whole-system creative thinkers” who can pursue innovation, get to the root of a challenge, and commit themselves to the process of life-long learning ...

... and valued colleagues who possess humor, humility, and common sense.

It is very gratifying for me to know that leadership potential resides in every individual ... that the pool of requisite qualities is not the unique endowment of a select few ... that the reservoir of integrity, energy, creativity and competence is no one’s exclusive domain …because leadership is not optional.  When the mantle is passed to each of us, we either embrace it fully, or we do not.  As leaders, we either succeed or fail in that moment.  We rise to the challenge, invest ourselves fully, make our contribution, and favorably influence the outcome or, together, the entire enterprise suffers the consequences.  Each of us determines the quality of our leadership each day. 

Thankfully, leadership skill can be developed and enhanced.  It is interesting to me that some have written that leadership cannot be taught, but clearly it must be learned.  Experience gained while engaged in the full deployment of one’s capabilities seems essential.  Assuming full accountability for results also seems critical in that individual experience without accountability is merely exposure, which facilitates little personal growth or enduring transformation.

No one knows these things more than you.  And that’s why the National Management Association plays such a critical role in all our organizations.  In a very real way, YOU embody the spirit of leadership that will lead our nation and our world into the 21st century.

I congratulate you all on your commitment to developing the leadership potential within yourselves, and for sharing that experience.  And I will say again how grateful I am to be honored as the Executive of the Year.  I admire this organization, and I am always encouraged and appreciative of the quality of the people who comprise it.  I look forward to working with you and following your continued progress in the years ahead.