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Until Lee Iacocca emerged on the scene as CEO of Chrysler, the general image of the American CEO had been of a buttoned-down organization man who was essentially bland and characterless. Iacocca spent his company’s profits on a lavish office, conducted interviews with national talk shows, and sold seven million copies of his autobiography .
Iacocca’s strategy was to enhance the company’s image by enhancing his own. Yet, he seemed more intent on proving his own greatness than advancing the needs of his company. And while Lee Iacocca’s flashy image approach worked for a while, it failed to sustain the company’s profitability .
In the book Success Mindsets , author Ryan Gottfredson explained it this way: “From the outside, it was clear that he spent too much company time and resources on things that would enhance his public image—all in an effort to increase Chrysler’s stock—and not enough time on what would make the company profitable in the long run…When Japanese automakers started taking over the American market, rather than seeking to improve Chrysler’s cars, Iacocca worked with the Reagan administration to impose tariffs and quotas that would stop Japanese manufacturers.”
Quoting Jim Collins’ Good to Great , Gottfredson also concluded, “While Iacocca was personally on the rise, his company was not. In the second half of his tenure, Chrysler’s stock fell 31% behind the general market.” It’s clear that a leader’s industry knowledge, leadership skills, and even charisma make a critical difference in the growth of a company.
The I-Connect007 research team recently conducted a survey on leadership, covering everything from leadership qualities to stories and lessons learned from inspirational leaders. Read what respondents from the industry had to share on the topic of leadership.
According to the survey results, the primary roles of a leader are not to amass bigger offices and best-selling books. Rather, the results demonstrated the most important qualities are team leadership, providing inspiration/motivation, setting goals, having a vision, and communicating well with others.
In response to the I-Connect007 survey question, “What would you consider to be the primary role of a leader,” many shared how a leader’s role is to:
- Lead by example
- Provide clear guidance for the team
- Mentor others
- Support subordinates
- Provide a vision and then enable a team to accomplish that vision
The next survey question was, “What are the qualities of a good leader?” Nearly half of those who responded were clear: A good leader builds a strong team through support and mentorship. Other responses were as expected: Effective leaders listen to understand, show integrity, provide inspiration, stay open-minded, push others to excel through personal example, are respectful, know the strengths and weaknesses of team members, are resourceful, demonstrate compassion, and stay up-to-date in their field.
As a manager, it can be tough to have all qualities in abundance. In an interview with the I-Connect007 editorial team regarding IPC’s Certified Electronics Program Manager Course, IPC’s director of education development Carlos Plaza said not to worry and explained how being adaptable is most effective:
“One of the mistakes that we often make in business is assuming people either have these things, or they don’t—the “born leader” example. I’m not sure that it really exists. Sometimes, you have people with the right aptitudes for a particular problem, and in the old days, those problems were pretty static and repetitious because technology and systems moved so slowly. But today, because they move so quickly, you need to have someone who’s able to apply those aptitudes—be creative, have complex problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence—constantly to different situations. That all starts with listening and being able to accurately take in the world around you without letting your ego get in the way. Checking your ego is one of the top things a leader needs as well.”
In the same interview with Plaza, instructor Susan Mucha stated, “The bottom line is there’s not one thing that makes a great leader, but a combination of really being able to know when it’s time to lead and manage and being able to inspire a team rather than have to order them to do it.”
With these strong qualities in mind, I-Connect007 asked, “In today’s business environment, what are the greatest challenges facing leaders?” While many of the responses were what might be expected, the top response outpaced all others: Finding and keeping talent. Clearly, finding and maintaining qualified employees in the diverse electronics field is high on the list of concerns among survey respondents.
As one respondent stated, “There is a challenge in being both a technical expert as well as a personnel expert,” while others noted that some leaders seem to lack empathy, overwork their employees, and have too many distractions. Readers were concerned that leaders are challenged to adapt to the pace of change in the workplace and hit “moving targets,” are restrained by shrinking budgets, and have blurred vision for the company. One respondent noted the difficulty of trying to grow your business when there are so many factors that are completely out of your control.
I-Connect007 further challenged respondents to explain their answers further and share stories about inspiring leaders they had encountered in their careers. Here are a few answers:
- I admire Elon Musk. He establishes a bold vision and challenges his team and partners to get his companies there. He doesn't take “impossible’ for an answer.” And he is able to manage through his personality quirks.
- I admire one of my co-workers. Scott is a long-term employee at the company where I work. He is an accomplished mechanical engineer who also serves as a manager. He understands the current technical details of several active design projects, coordinates department status meetings and outside testing, tracks action items, and manages good relations with our clients, just to name a few of his many functions. On top of that, he is always willing to take a few minutes to answer technical questions, mentor newbies in the department, or even just take care of something that needs to be done. Even though he is very busy, he maintains a good attitude in the face of adversity and stands up for what is right. He's also someone who can be trusted with confidential information and is supportive when you need help. Basically, he leads by example.
- I admire my grandmother. She was born on a dirt floor in a small Midwestern farming community. She eventually built and ran the local hospital. One day, when I was five, I went to see her. I found her out front, planting flowers with a maintenance person. I said, “Grandma, why are you planting flowers? I thought you were the boss." She laughed at me and said, “I'm helping plant flowers because I am the boss." It's a lesson I'll never forget. We lead by example.
- I admire a manager to whom I used to report. During my time working for Mark, I learned many things regarding leadership, such as problem solving as a team, working as a team, and developing the best ideas as a team. Mark is very well-read on these subjects and helped our design team work together to solve quite a few challenges. Though I think Mark knew the possible sources of our stumbling blocks, he did not tell us what to do to solve them. He met with our group to help us learn communication and analysis skills to identify and solve them with a team approach. He even went as far as purchasing all of us copies of The 4 Disciplines of Execution  and helped us choose a “wildly important goal” to reduce PCB design errors making it to our in-house assembly operation. He demonstrated very helpful leadership that I am still inspired to emulate six years later. Thanks, Mark!
The final leadership question posed was, “What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned?” This comment summed it up well: “You are measured by the way you treat other people.” Many of the other answers indicated that respondents learned the importance of listening well before speaking, being honest, accepting your mistakes and learning from them, and getting things done as a team.
Today’s leaders have a lot to consider, including numerous business and market challenges. However, based on readers’ responses, there seems to be agreement on a variety of leadership roles and qualities. There are also great, and not-so-great, examples of leadership, as well as inspiring stories about leaders from bold visionaries like Elon Musk to co-workers, managers, and grandmas. Leadership is truly more important now than ever.
Editor’s note: Survey responses have been edited slightly for clarity.
- Ryan Gottfredson, Success Mindsets: Your Keys to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership, Morgan James Publishing, 2020.
- Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't, Harper Business, 2011.
- Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Free Press, 2012.
This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine.