What Great Leaders Have In Common With The Rolling Stones

I was presenting our quarterly operations review to the executive team at my cable TV company.   It had been a particularly good quarter for all of our operating metrics, and I was pumped.

It was time to lay it all out there, and gather up the kudos.  Because after all, who doesn’t like to be praised?

The slides kept going up on the overhead screen, one after another, all showing improvement.   And this improvement was saving the company money.  Lots of it.

There were a lot of nods, a few audible “that’s great”s, and then, I came up to a slide that I was particularly proud of.

It had to do with customer education.  Several months prior I had noticed that our “repeat truck rolls” to customers that involved teaching a customer how to set up their e-mail, or set up their voice mail, or figure out how to use their remote controls, were abnormally high.

I figured out a way to track and manage how well we did our initial education at the house (via our callback program, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago), and by doing this, we were able to reduce those “repeats” considerably.     We tracked it by way of a “success percentage” – for example, in any given period, we successfully delivered the appropriate customer education __% of the time.

The first time we did the tracking, we were at 87%.  As of the date of this quarterly report, we were at 95%.   That was the target we set, and I proudly displayed it on that PowerPoint slide, and told the story of this great improvement.

Turns out I was just a little TOO happy about it.

That’s when our CEO decided to speak.

“95%, huh” he said.

“Why not 100%?”

I was totally unprepared for that.  I stammered out a few sentences about how I wanted to set an “achievable” target that would generate momentum and improvement, but it wasn’t having much of an effect.

He was not satisfied.

“Why not 100%?”

This was a man who I really respected.  He was a mentor, and I was fiercely loyal to him.  His approval was really important to me.

And this is why he was such a great leader.

He was not satisfied.

And he KNEW that by letting me know that, it would have the desired effect on me.

That effect was initially frustration, followed by a realization, and then, paydirt – a dogged determination.

“Yes, you’re right, we should shoot for 100%“, I finally said.

So we did, and guess what – we got that 95% up to 99%.    To tell you the truth, I initially never thought we could get it that high.

But someone else did.

That’s where great leadership is like the Rolling Stones – they “can’t get no satisfaction“.

Great leaders certainly acknowledge and praise success, but there always will be an immediate challenge attached to it  – in effect, saying – “Don’t rest on your laurels, there’s more work to be done – we can’t get complacent in our success.  Inertia is crippling”.

Most self-motivated people know this in our guts – I’m one of those people.

But still, our mentors, our great leaders, have that innate ability to deliver that “motivating dissatisfaction” at precisely the right time, and with the right tone – perhaps not with the bite and melody of the Rolling Stones, but in their own personal style.

Thank you Bill Bresnan for being that mentor to me.  I miss your guidance every day.


  1. says

    Growth and change are often difficult, which is one reason why so few leaders are willing to significantly challenge us to grow and change.

    I’m reminded of how my best teachers in school have always been the ones who have pushed me the hardest … and often given me the lowest grades (in part, I suspect, due to their recognition of how far short of my personal potential I was falling).

    Your story also reminds of a quote I read (and copied down) by Howard Schultz in a Wall Street Journal a few years ago:

    … A few hours later, a dozen people gathered in a conference room to show managers a planned Web site designed to help coffee customers volunteer in their communities. During the presentation, Mr. Schultz cut in to ask how Starbucks would tell if the site was successful. The group looked at one another in silence. One pointed to a screen showing how many employees had signed on. “I’m sure you agree that does not define success,” Mr. Schultz said.

  2. says

    I was really curious reading the headline, and after reading your text, i have to say it makes me think about challenging employees.

    Sure, it is great to always try hard, and work on being the best, but i think it can be really frustrating getting answers like this when you know that the job you’ve done is good.

    A good challenge would be a step by step plan, how to archive the 100% satisfaction, not just a plain “… why not 100% … “

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