Lee Iacocca on Leadership

Lee Iacocca is 82 years old. The fire in his belly is undiminished, however. I have only read an excerpt from his bookWhere Have All the Leaders Gone?” But that excerpt resonates with me. He talks about the failure of leadership in America. He lists what he calls the “Nine C’s of Leadership” and indicts George W Bush on each of those counts. The C’s are: Curiosity, Creative, Communicate, Character, Courage, Conviction, Charisma, Competent and Common Sense.

Iacocca says it like he sees it. His rant — and that first chapter is a rant in the finest tradition — is sincere and direct. As he puts it, he is outraged and that every American should be outraged by what is happening in the US. I respect that sort of honest outrage. It forces people out of their complacency.

The US is facing a crisis of leadership. But it is not alone. When I try to measure the Indian leadership on Iacocca’s Nine C scales, I find them failing almost as miserably as GWB. But where is India’s Iacocca to hold Indian leaders’ feet to the fire?

Here’s an excerpt from the book, for the record:

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo? We’ve spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane, or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm. Everyone’s hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn’t happen again. Now, that’s just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you’re going to do the next time.

Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when “the Big Three” referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen—and more important, what are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.

I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn’t elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That some bobblehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don’t you guys show some spine for a change?

Had Enough?

Hey, I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I’m trying to light a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America. In my lifetime I’ve had the privilege of living through some of America’s greatest moments. I’ve also experienced some of our worst crises—the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s this: You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it’s building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That’s the challenge I’m raising in this book. It’s a call to action for people who, like me, believe in America. It’s not too late, but it’s getting pretty close. So let’s shake off the horseshit and go to work. Let’s tell ’em all we’ve had enough.

Read it all. And ask yourself if you have the stuff to be a leader. I know I don’t.

4 thoughts on “Lee Iacocca on Leadership

  1. Haven’t you already written about this (Iacocca’s book) earlier?
    Its not the 9Cs in India. Its only a G- in the surname.
    With most Indians suspending their thought processes, it will take a while before we see any semblance of an enlightened leadership. I don’t really see anything radical happening any soon. We would, probably, have some mediocre leaders doing the right things and getting rewarded for the same and thus creating a virtuous circle of greatness. That’s what I thought would happen in the case of Chandra Babu Naidu. It didn’t and it seems a similar fate is in store for Buddhadeb in Bengal.


  2. atleast americans had leaders of repute not now,but in the past,atleast they can lament for lost leadership we indians cannot do so because we did not have any leaders as such we had only third rate rulers/PMs ,and i do not see it changing in the forseeable future.We indians lack vision and far sight.sensible Indians have rightly lost faith and trust in india.


  3. yeah? – all sounds great from a man who ranted (yes ranted was again the word) against government bail-out of business while at Ford and then went to Washington with a begging bowl in had when in Chrysler.

    I respect your academic choices and theories – but please spare me the personality cults from US Corporations!!!!!


  4. Sarat Kumar:

    Indeed, I did write about the same book in April. So this post is a duplicate. Thanks for pointing it out.


    An old Zen saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” India still has a bit to go but will eventually be ready to have a leader.


    I am against personality cults just as much as the next guy. Regardless of whether one is a personality, even an American personality, I am more inclined to ask whether the person makes sense to me or not. Iacocca does. He did go ask the government to guarantee the loans that Chrysler needed to stay afloat and as it happened, thanks to Iacocca’s leadership and vision, Chrysler was able to repay the loans. The government guarantee did not cost the public one cent. It could have been a major fiasco had Chrysler gone under after the loans. But in hind sight it was a good move.

    Lee Iacocca is a competent leader. So also Lee Kuan Yew. I admire competency.


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