Leadership - Off the Wall
by Paul B. Thornton

W. Clement Stone began as a shoeshine boy and became a multimillionaire.  He credits his success to three words: Do It Now.  He required everyone who worked for him to write those words on index cards and post them in their work area.

The sayings and quotes leaders post on their desks or office walls often represent guiding principles they have followed to achieve success. 

Here are some of my favorites.

  1. “It can be done!” — sign President Ronald Reagan kept on his desk in the Oval Office. Dubbed "The Great Communicator," Reagan was known for his optimism and his ability to express ideas and emotions in a clear, eloquent, and quotable fashion. He honed these skills as a radio host, actor, live television host, and politician. In response to being dubbed the Great Communicator, he said in his Farewell Address: "I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things...." President Reagan loved America and had great confidence in Americans. He often spoke about our potential and need to a beacon of hope – “The Shining City Upon a Hill.”

  2. Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City from 1994-2001. During that time he was credited with major reductions in crime and improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers. He gained national attention for his leadership role after the September 11 attacks on the World trade Center. While mayor, he had the sign “I’m Responsible” on the desk.

  3. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), a leading social and fiscal conservative in Congress, has advocated the need for a smaller and more compassionate government. On his office wall hangs a plaque of the Second Commandment — "Love your neighbor as yourself" — which he considers a guide to his political activism.

  4. Bill Gates has a picture of Henry Ford in his office. It is there as a reminder to not do what Ford did. Ford didn’t listen and respond to his customers. Ford said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black.” Henry Ford knew his customers wanted the option to buy cars painted other than black. But he didn’t think he had to respond to customer wants because he had a lock on the marketplace. This “fatal attitude” caused him to lose market share to upstart General Motors.

  5. Michael Neidorff, Chairman & CEO, Centene Corp., has a paperweight on his desk of a hand reaching for stars.  He explains that if you are reaching for the stars, you will never come up with a handful of mud.

  6. Karen Katen, President of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals and corporate executive vice president, was known to have a paperweight on her desk with the inscription, "Who else needs to know?"  She believes knowledge is a company asset, not the property of any individual.  Katen applied the principle of knowledge dissemination relentlessly, thus propelling Pfizer to become a marketing powerhouse.

  7. Vincent Maniaci, President, American International College, has a picture of dogs playing poker on his office wall.  Vince states, “It reminds me to do three things:

    1. Not to take myself too seriously. Lighten up and have fun. See the humor in things.
    2. Be aware of the competition.
    3. Network and connect with people in informal and social ways.

  8. “WHY?” — Sign in the office of Michael D. Niziolek, Vice President Human Resources, Hasbro Games.

    Bruce Gissing, former executive vice president at Boeing Aircraft Company, said that world-class managers are genuinely curious. One of their favorite questions is “Why?” Why is this activity necessary? Why is this procedure followed? Why do we need that rule? Imagine the power of constantly, incessantly questioning every report, rule, policy, and procedure with that simple question — Why are we doing this?
  9. “Less Data—More Meanings” — Sign in the office of Thomas A. Goodrow, Vice President, Economic and Business Development, Springfield technical Community College.

    Today we are flooded with studies, reports, and computer runs that provide data about every conceivable aspect of business. The amount of data is overwhelming. What’s often lacking is interpretation of the data — what does it mean? Effective leaders don’t get tied up in all the details. They present the big ideas that capture people’s attention and enthusiasm.

  10. “Start Talking and Get to Work” — Sign in the office of Alden Davis, Business Effectiveness Consultant, Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies Corporation.

    Journalist Alan Webber said that in the old days if the boss caught you talking on the phone or hanging around the water cooler, he or she would have said, “Stop talking and get to work!” However in today’s dynamic, fast paced information society, if you’re not talking with customers, colleagues, or suppliers, the boss is likely to say, “Start talking and get to work.” Network, blog, listen, share, question, and discuss – these are the actions needed to stay current and continuously improve.

  11. “Make It a WOW Experience” — Sign in the office of Kate T. Labor, Director, Marketing, Systems and Software If you are not continually focused on your customers and getting them to say “wow” once in a while, then someone else will. Here’s a good suggestion from Ron Willingham, author of Hey, I’m the Customer:  Write down a set of “exit statements.” That is, when customers leave your business or work area, how do you want them to describe the product and service they received? How about words like “exceptional,” “great,” “super,” “delightful,” and “exceeded my expectations”?

  12. “Ideas Compete and People Collaborate” — Sign on a yellow Post-It note on the wall behind the desk of an HR Manager at a Fortune 100 company.

  13. Stacey Glaesmann, Licensed Professional Counselor, has the following quote on her office wall.  "Just for today...smile more, help others, be generous, work hard.” (anonymous) Stacey states, “I like the quote because it focuses on TODAY and is not as overwhelming as a total life change.”


The sign in my office is “Childlike Qualities We Should All Keep — Curiosity, Playfulness, and Fun.”  What are your guiding principles? What do you have posted in your office?

Paul B. Thornton is a speaker, author, consultant, and associate professor of business administration at Springfield Technical Community College. In addition, he is an associate professor at large for the Thierry Graduate School of Leadership located in Brussels, Belgium. Paul is president, Be The Leader Associates. His company designs and conducts management/leadership programs. His latest book The Best Leadership Advice I Ever Got is available on amazon.com. Contact information: PThornton@stcc.edu ; www.betheleader.com ; 413-592-5411 .

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2007 by Paul B. Thornton. All rights reserved.

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