I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Leadership for the past while – much as a result of my own personal experience. The comments discussion from the Ed B piece below has challenged me to think and research even more. Leading me to many great writers and commentators.
Peter Drucker is probably one of the most influential management/leadership thinkers in the last 50 years. His Leader to Leader website features some illuminating articles and I’m particularly impressed with this one. This is a great story from it:
When Dick Drew, a scientist for 3M, paid a visit to an auto body shop in 1922 to test a new batch of sandpaper (the company’s primary product at the time), he heard a group of workers cursing vehemently. Two-tone cars had recently become popular, but painters hated them because they had to mask parts of the auto body with heavy adhesive tape and butcher paper, and when they later removed the masking, some of the new paint often came away with it. As he watched the craftsmen repair the torn paint, Drew thought of a solution to the problem: a tape with a less aggressive adhesive.
Even though tape was not part of his company’s line at the time, Drew believed 3M was ideally placed to develop such a product — it would be like sandpaper without the sand.
Drew went to the laboratory and began a long and frustrating quest for the right combination of adhesive and backing. After several fruitless years, 3M President McKnight told Drew to drop the project and get back to work on improving sandpaper. Drew complied, but a day later he thought of a new way to handle the backing problems and resumed his experiments. In the middle of one of them, McKnight paid another visit to the lab, saw Drew hard at work on his supposedly abandoned project, but said nothing.
Drew finally found the right combination of materials and asked McKnight to approve funding for a paper-making machine to manufacture the new tape. His request was rejected, but Drew wasn’t about to give up. As a researcher, he had authority to approve purchases of up to $100, so he began writing a series of $99 purchase orders. He later confessed his strategy to McKnight while showing him the new machine.
And in this way, masking tape was born. Its launch marked the start of a new chapter in 3M’s evolution, which would lead to the introduction of Scotch Cellophane tape (also invented by Drew) in 1930, and to 3M’s current range of over 700 tapes for medical, electrical, construction, and dozens of other applications.
These exchanges between McKnight and Drew, Drew’s insubordinate purchase of the paper-making machinery, and McKnight’s relaxed response to his defiance, are an expression of a powerful culture of leadership. "They set forth a clear ethic for managers" the company states in its literature. "If you have the right person on the right project, and they are absolutely dedicated to finding a solution, leave them alone. Tolerate their initiative and trust them."