Depths of personal commitment allowed the great leaders to execute well in all aspects of their business, as well as to overcome any barriers and adversities they encountered.
Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, noted, “I think I overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work. I don’t know if you’re born with this kind of passion, or if you can learn it. But I do know you need it. If you love your work, you will be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around you will catch the passion from you—like a fever.”
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (U.S. Navy) supported this perspective. As noted in an excerpt from a speech he delivered at Columbia University in 1982, he said, “When doing a job—any job—one must feel that he owns it, and act as though he will remain in that job forever. He must look after his work just as conscientiously as though it were his own business and his own money. If he feels he is only a temporary custodian, or that the job is just a stepping stone to a higher position, his actions will not take into account the long-term interests of the organization.
“His lack of commitment to the present job will be perceived by those who work for him, and they, likewise, will tend not to care,” Rickover continues. “Too many spend their entire working lives looking for the next job. When one feels he owns his present job and acts that way, he need have no concern about his next job. In accepting responsibility for a job, a person must get directly involved. Every manager has a personal responsibility not only to find problems, but to correct them. This responsibility comes before all other obligations, before personal ambition or comfort.”
John W. Thompson, the former CEO of Symantec Corp., echoed Rickover’s sentiments when he asserted, “Philosophically, I believe that business is personal, that if you don’t take it personally, you won’t get anything out of it. If you don’t get personally involved in what you get done—if you’re not emotionally committed to it—it’s unlikely that you’re going to have a high degree of success.”
A depth of personal commitment was evident among most of the great leaders surveyed. Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc., was deeply committed not only to the success of her business, but also to the women who sold her products.
Henry Luce, co-founder of Time Magazine, demonstrated his commitment on multiple levels. Filmmaker Stephen Stept, who produced an American Masters on Henry Luce, said in a PBS interview, “Luce was a missionary’s son and he brought a sense of mission to journalism; it was a calling, and he approached Time Inc. as both capitalist and missionary. His goal was not only to have the most successful media enterprise, but he took very seriously his responsibility to inform and educate his readers, to raise the level of discourse in this country. Whether he succeeded or not is subject to debate, but there is no denying the depth of his commitment.”
A notable example of an observable depth of commitment that had a lasting influence on America is George Washington. Glenn A. Phelps wrote in the preface of his book, George Washington & American Constitutionalism (University Press of Kansas, 1993), “[Washington’s] writings reveal a clear, thoughtful, and remarkably coherent vision of what he hoped an American republic would become.... His words, many of them revealed only for family and friends, reveal a man with a passionate commitment to a fully developed idea of a constitutional republic on a continental scale, eager to promote that plan wherever and whenever circumstance or the hand of Providence allowed.”
If you would like to learn more about the personal commitment and passion of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to my book, Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2012). It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts, and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills.