8 Timeless Leadership Lessons from Andy Grove

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove was, in many ways, larger than life. The Time 1997 Man of the Year and 1997 Chief Executive magazine CEO of the Year was more than a business leader. He was an innovator, a mentor, a survivor and an out-of-the-box thinker. And his ideas on leadership— disseminated in a couple of best-selling books and ratified by his success and experiences running Intel—will live on for decades to come as some of the most-admired lessons in the world.

Grove, who died last week at the age of 79, was a Holocaust survivor who turned Intel into one of the high-tech world’s most influential trendsetters. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease recently after earlier fighting a battle against prostate cancer which he, characteristically, wrote about.

During his 1980s tenure, he helped lead Intel through a wrenching transition from supplying memory chips, which comprised most of its business but faced commodity competition from Asia, to becoming the dominant maker of microprocessors that were at the heart of most computers. He not only led but embraced the change and ended up making “Intel Inside” one of the foremost “ingredient” brands in history.

Here are some of our favorite leadership lessons from Grove, from two of his best-selling business books, High Output Management (1983), and the better-known classic, Only the Paranoid Survive: How To Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and Career (1996).

1. “Only the humble survive [or] at least the complacent get killed,” the Harvard Business Review said in summarizing his second book. Among other things, CEOs should pretend that they’re replacing themselves; what would they do then? “If existing management wants to keep their jobs when the basics of the business are undergoing profound change, they must adopt an outsider’s intellectual objectivity,” Grove wrote.

2. Be great no matter what’s happening in the rest of your company. Don’t use the failings of those around you as an excuse; great management will make your team follow you anywhere you go.

3, CEOs and business leaders “all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change. We need to expose ourselves to our customers, both the ones who are staying with us as well as those we may lose by sticking to the past. We need to expose ourselves to lower-level employees, who, when encouraged, will tell us a lot that we need to know. We must invite comments even from people whose job it is to constantly evaluate and critique us.” Such an approach, Grove believed, would help CEOs immensely when it came to using his two-step process for making strategic decisions.

4. A leader must identify “strategic inflection points” which arise when there is an order-of-magnitude change in a company’s environment. CEOs can do this with a “six force” framework that relies on customers, suppliers, competitors, potential competitors, providers of substitutes and a frenemy group called “complementors.” He also encouraged leaders to make a decision at these inflection points.

5. “Fix Problems when they’re small.”

6. “The greatest danger is in standing still.”

7. “The person who is the star of a previous era is often the last one to adapt to change.”

8. “Admitting that you need to learn something new is always difficult. … But if you don’t fight it, that very deference may become a wall that isolates you from learning new things. It all takes self-discipline.”

 

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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