Iacocca’s Nine Cs of Leadership

I’ve never been Commander in Chief, but I’ve been a CEO. I understand a few things about leadership at the [...]

August 20 2007 by Francis Adams


I’ve never been Commander in Chief, but I’ve been a CEO. I understand a few things about leadership at the top. I’ve figured out nine points-not ten [I don't want people accusing me of thinking I'm Moses]. I call them the “Nine Cs of Leadership”  - says an excerpt from former Chrysler Chairman and CEO Lee Iacocca’s Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

Enter, Robert Nardelli, who private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management named the new Chrysler’s CEO and one with numerous sobriquets, including “The Turnaround Specialist”, “The Hatchet Guy”, “Tough Job, Tough Guy”.
The list goes on€¦

When asked by Fortune in April, what he would be doing if he were to be back as CEO of Chrysler, Iacocca, in his characteristic style, put it bluntly: “To succeed today, you have to set priorities, decide what you stand for. You can’t do all things for all people. I think the model lines are too complicated at all the Big Three – too many different kinds of cars for customers to assimilate what they’re being sold. There’s no easy answer. It’s hard work. Find good people, stay with it, and things will be okay. President Bush said the auto companies should get relevant and compete, and I got the shivers.”

 It would be unfair even to speculate whether Nardelli has got the shivers. But steering a lagging Chrysler out of trouble will surely require a lot of hard work.

Here’s Iacocca’s C-list, not only for Nardelli, but for all corporate leaders, as listed in his book:

  • A leader has to show CURIOSITY . He has to listen to people outside of the “Yes, sir” crowd in his inner circle. He has to read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place.
  • A leader has to be CREATIVE , go out on a limb, be willing to try something different. You know, think outside the box .
  • A leader has to COMMUNICATE . I’m not talking about running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I’m talking about facing reality and telling the truth.
  • A leader has to be a person of CHARACTER . That means knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the guts to do the right thing.
  • A leader must have COURAGE . I’m talking about balls.  (That even goes for female leaders.) Swagger isn’t courage. Tough talk isn’t courage.
  • To be a leader you’ve got to have CONVICTION -a fire in your belly. You’ve got to have passion. You’ve got to really want to get something done. How do you measure fire in the belly?
  • A leader should have CHARISMA . I’m not talking about being flashy. Charisma is the quality that makes people want to follow you. It’s the ability to inspire . People follow a leader because they trust  him.
  • A leader has to be COMPETENT . That seems obvious, doesn’t it? You’ve got to know what you’re doing. More important than that, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who know what they’re  doing.
  • You can’t be a leader if you don’t have COMMON SENSE . I call this Charlie Beacham’s rule.

Related stories: 

Can Chrysler Show Detroit the Way? (January/Febuary 2006)

The smallest of the Big Three has done the most to transform itself.

Chrysler Fights Back (July 2004)

Dieter Zetsche has transformed the longtime struggling automaker. But now the company has to start winning in a brutal marketplace.

Inflection points (September 2002)

These 25 mavericks-some controversial, some wacky, all driven-show what it takes to revolutionize business.