These 4 Old-School Leadership Principles Still Ring True Today

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These 4 Old-School Leadership Principles Still Ring True Today


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Technology changes a lot very fast. People, not so much.


5 min read

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The business world has certainly changed since leaders like David Ogilvy or Peter Drucker were looked to for leadership advice. But just because the workplaces of today are more inclusive, diverse and faster moving doesn’t mean that the leadership principles espoused by a previous generation of business titans don’t hold up.

To the contrary, the thoughts and practices of management expert Peter Drucker, business author Dale Carnegie, advertising genius David Ogilvy, and former President Theodore Roosevelt offer nuggets of wisdom that can make it easier to navigate the modern workplace.

1. Analytics keep people accountable.

“What gets measured gets managed.”

This phrase coined by Peter Drucker seems an obvious conclusionn our world of big data, but even today professionals fail to recognize the importance of accurately measuring the variables most related to success.

If you’re interested in seeing an improvement in the workplace or in your personal life, the easiest way to drive change is by setting a measurable goal, and monitoring performance on a regular basis.

Doing so will make it easier to associate various actions with positive or negative outcomes, which will force you and your team to hold one another accountable. This is true whether you’re trying to lose weight or increase your social media engagement.

To make things easier, consider using some sort of free or inexpensive dashboard to monitor progress. Geckoboard, Smartsheets, or Domo are all good options since they integrate with a variety of popular business tools like Hubspot, Salesforce, and Google Analytics.

Related: These 10 Peter Drucker Quotes May Change Your World

2. Admit your own mistakes before others hold you accountable.

“Any fool can try to defend his or her mistakes – and most fools do – but it raises one above the herd and gives one a feeling of nobility and exultation to admit one’s mistakes.”

Dale Carnegie offered that advice in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, published more than 80 years ago.

When you next make a mistake take Carnegie’s advice and own up to it as soon as possible. Taking ownership and explaining why the mistake could negatively impact the organization is an effective way to position yourself as a leader. Furthermore, it will make senior managers feel as though you understand the bigger picture and are capable of responsibly comporting yourself in challenging times.

Failure and mistakes are a natural part of business and life. If you didn’t make mistakes you probably wouldn’t be taking smart risks and thus learning new things. What matters is that you take ownership of mistakes, and make an effort to avoid repeating them in the future.

Don’t get defensive if you screw up, even if you had a good reason for doing so. Admit your failure, take ownership, and learn from it.

Related: Why the Best Read for Modern Entrepreneurs Is a Book From the 1930s

3. Hire people who are smarter than you.

The best businesses are often the ones that win the talent war. David Ogilvy, the founder of the prolific advertising agency by the same name knew this when he wrote, “If you ever find a man who is smarter than you, hire him.”

Other successful entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs and Lee Iacocca among them, have said much the same. As an entrepreneur or a manager, hiring is the single best way to build a successful business or team. To do it, you often must avoid compromising on talent even if it means waiting longer than you would have liked to fill a position.

The long term impact of making a bad hire is significant. It can hurt morale or lower your business’s standards. Similarly, a good hire produces a series of compounding results that inevitably help to make your organization stronger.

Related: 5 Laws of Advertising and Marketing That Haven’t Changed in a Half Century

4. Leaders must also be learners.

“As soon as any man has ceased to be able to learn, his usefulness as a teacher is at an end. When he himself can’t learn, he has reached the stage where other people can’t learn from him.”

Theodore Roosevelt was a Renaissance man of epic proportions. He was a rancher, a New York City police chief, an outdoorsman and the 26th President of the United States. Given his impressive resume it’s no wonder that he had a few words of wisdom to offer about leadership.

Effective leaders must be able to self-teach. Business will inevitably present unfamiliar new scenarios. To overcome these challenges you must learn enough to make smart decisions and to manage those who are experts in their given fields.

To become an autodidact, identify the one thing that would help you be more successful if you knew more about it. Then ask peers, mentors or experts to recommend a few good resources. Build a reasonable study schedule and you’ll be well on your way to developing this important leadership skill.

Related: 5 Epic Leaders Who Studied Stoicism — and Why You Should Too

Some advice is timeless.

While the people who advocate these four leadership principles are from a different era, their advice is timeless. By measuring what matters, taking ownership of your mistakes, hiring smart people and investing in self-education, you’ll be following leadership advice put forth by some of the most successful entrepreneurs our country has ever seen. In a business world filled with so many things you can’t control, it’s highly beneficial to be aware of such reliable, sound principles.



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