Posted by: Knightbird | September 3, 2010

A Contrary View of Management and Leadership

I learned a great deal about top management from Fred Lee, who wrote “If Disney Ran Your Hospital—9 ½ Things You Would Do Differently.” I have often said that being a leader is not managing, but inspiring others to manage well by leading. Change at Chugachmiut comes from our employees, and I believe this story from Fred Lee makes the point.

“Years ago I came across an unforgettable illustration that I have shared many times. Steve Brown, who was president of the Fortune Group, tells it in his excellent book, 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make and How You Can Avoid Them. He had been asked to analyze and help solve a problem by the president of a real estate company with 27 branches in the Chicago area. Together they had more than 500 agents and salespeople.”

The president said, “I would like to have you talk with one of our managers. It seems our business is not his vocation. Our business is his avocation; his vocation is cards.” I pressed for details and he said, “He shows up at his office and spends about an hour-and-a-half in the morning before going across the street to the country club where he plays cards all day long. Then he returns to the office and spends about an hour before going home.”

“Dick, before I talk with him, tell me about his office. For starters, among your 27 branches, where is his?”

“Oh, it’s the largest.”

“What about volume of business?”

“His office does more than any other branch.”

What about bottom-line profit?”

“Oh, it’s our most profitable.”

I thought we might have a case of a person spending a lifetime building a branch and deciding to semi-retire himself at full salary, so I added, “Well, what about growth?”

Dick said, “Percentage wise, it grows more than any of the others. There’s hardly any turnover among his sales people, and they absolutely love him.”

Then Dick signed, “Steve, what do you think we ought to do?”

I said, “I think we ought to find 27 more just like him. He’s the best executive in the bunch.

“The author goes on to say that a manger’s success is not measured by what he can do, but by what his people can do without him.”

Fred Lee, “If Disney Ran Your Hospital—9 ½ Things You Would Do Differently,” pp. 96-97, Second River Healthcare Press, 2004.

As we gradually changed the culture of Chugachmiut through our Lean initiative, I found fewer and fewer fires to fight. And as I taught my Executive Team how to lead, my day to day responsibilities diminished, and our results improved substantially. I now have time to indulge my passion, which is to find the root cause of the social problems we face as Alaska Native people, and seek solutions.


  1. Patrick, thank you very much for sharing Steve’s story, as you’ve noted, quite a powerful and illustrative one. Also, although Lee’s book says that Steve WAS the president of The Fortune Group, he still is and is still quite active.

  2. Thank you for your comment Andy. My reference to Steve was a direct quote from Fred Lee’s book, and I am happy to hear that he is still “the man” at Fortune Group. I absolute love the story and have used it many times. It’s a great one to share, and I am afraid that so few leaders understand the concept.

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