The Visionary’s Ears

As children, we are urged to speak up, to raise our hands first and demonstrate that we know the answers, and to “show what you’ve got.” Such behavior can lead to good grades, parental pride and development of skills. When one becomes a business leader and seeks to become a business visionary, there may be better advice. Consider two words:



Those two words have the exact same letters.  I believe that’s not just a coincidence; it is a profound message, as exemplified by the following interviewees in my new book, Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born.

Ø  When David Abney first assumed the position of CEO of UPS, now a $60 billion+ company, he went on a year-long global journey, visiting customers and staff.  New to the position (although a life-long UPSer who started full time driving a UPS van), it would have seemed natural to spell out his goals and expectations. But UPS was known as an engineering firm that happened to deliver packages. He wouldn’t presume spending all that time telling engineers what he wanted to do and he really wanted to understand, first hand, what customers wanted. So instead he invested that valuable time listening, to hear what they thought, what they envisioned and hoped for at UPS and what they needed to make that come true.

Ø  Underwriters Laboratories was in trouble a decade ago when the iconic not-for-profit was bleeding cash. When Keith Williams was brought in as CEO, he quickly perceived that UL needed a cultural revolution. Ultimately, Williams instituted a weekly news blast to all employees which proved successful. First he undertook a “listening tour” to hear what staff and customers were thinking.

Ø  Fred Smith realized early-on that the computer would empower every aspect of his new delivery company, FedEx.  He had no background in computers but he started making contact with and listening to those who did.  Decades ago, he hired computer and internet experts, even bringing such experts to address and to serve on his Board. There they explained, educated and described visions of the future:  the influence of the web and of computers able to handle huge data.  He listened to all of them and applied the learnings to FedEx’s operations.

            Smith also is an inveterate reader.  Some lose sight of that.  Even though everyone knows he graduated from Yale, because of the famous story of his receiving a “C” as the grade on the FedEx business plan he prepared for a class assignment. Even a student who got a “C” at Yale is probably a good reader.  Smith, however, is also a disciplined reader.  He doesn’t read fiction, not even business books.  He reads about what’s going on in the world and what other smart people think will be.  He “listens” to what experts write.  Then he adapts his readings’ lessons to FedEx.

Some might think, based on the root word of “visionary” that the key to being a successful business visionary lies in one’s eyes.  In fact, it may be housed in one’s ears. The full stories of Abney, Smith, Williams and others, as successful business visionaries, can be read in Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born.

A human mind can generate only so many original ideas. The mind’s greatest strength is its power to perceive and process innumerable facts. Observing (seeing, listening, etc.) external facts enables leveraging of your mind’s power and can lead to great vision.

Are you open to stimuli? What stimulus did you process today?