4 Keys to Long-Haul Leadership

He was once regarded as one of the best business leaders in the world.

At the end of his career, he was disgraced and, by some measures, considered one of the worst business leaders of all time.

Al Dunlap believed that the primary goal of a company was to make money for its shareholders. To that end, he would lead an organization to massive layoffs and plant closings. The short-term profits would soar and so would the value of the company.

He led Scott Paper with that ruthless behavior. Thousands of employees lost their jobs. Plants were closed. But it seemed like he had the formula for success when he sold Scott Paper to Kimberly-Clark for $2.8 billion and walked away with his own $100 million golden parachute.

Over time, Dunlap’s true colors began to become clear. He would become CEO of Sunbeam in 1996. He took measures to make the company profitable at all costs, even if they were unethical or illegal. He eventually led the company to bankruptcy.

Short-term leaders and Long-haul Leadership

Sometimes, the metaphor “flash in the pan” is used to describe leaders like Dunlap. They appear to be great leaders, but that greatness is illusionary. Over time, the true value of the leader is made clear.

On the other extreme are long-haul leaders. These are leaders who, most often, do not begin with great recognition and fanfare. Over time, however, the greatness of their leadership becomes evident. Some will remark that the leader “came out of nowhere.” Such is rarely the case. True great leaders for the long haul have been in formation for years. They work hard but rarely get recognition for a season. At some point, however, the value of their leadership begins to show. 

My research team and I have examined leaders and their attributes for nearly thirty years. These long-haul leaders especially intrigued us and how they built their careers ultimately to become leaders of renown. In all of them, we found four dominating traits.

Key #1: Passion

The long-haul leaders continually made choices to work in areas where they had passion for their jobs. They made tough decisions at times to take lower-paying jobs so they could follow their dreams. Passionate workers become passionate leaders. Passionate leaders often become great leaders. “I refuse to work at any job,” one leader told us, “unless I can be totally sold out to what I’m doing.”

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Thom Rainer
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.

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