Lee Iacocca: Speaking Out

If you’ve ever read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography (Iacocca: An Autobiography), or heard any of the history surrounding him, you know one thing: he’s a straight shooter. (If you haven’t read his biography, for the love of God, go to your library and pick it up, or buy it at a bookstore somewhere. Heck, most thrift stores have copies of it which you can get for really cheap. Check out the Amazon retail partners (linked above) if you want cheap and convenient.) At the age of 82, this guy’s been firing off left and right about what he sees as right and wrong with America today, and I’ll tell you, I agree with him, big time.

For the record, if you’re too young to know who Iacocca is, check out his Wikipedia page, then go and get his biography. In short, he’s one of the most respected business leaders in American history.

The first item is a video from Fortune by way of CNN.com in which he analyzes the current situation in Detroit, especially the bonuses for company CEOs, which are now in the hundreds of millions. (Don’t forget that Iacocca took a $1 a year salary while in Chrysler and based his salary on the performance of the company.) You can find the video here: Lee Iacocca Fortune Interview (About 4 minutes long).

The second item comes by way of his new book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, in which he goes for the jugular against corrupt politicians and the lack of good leadership today from business leaders and politicians. Here’s an excerpt:

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 … If a leader never steps outside his comfort zone to hear different ideas, he grows stale. If he doesn’t put his beliefs to the test, how does he know he’s right? The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don’t care.

A leader has to be CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing to try something different. You know, think outside the box … Leadership is all about managing change—whether you’re leading a company or leading a country. Things change, and you get creative. You adapt.

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. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

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 … Courage in the twenty-first century doesn’t mean posturing and bravado. Courage is a commitment to sit down at the negotiating table and talk.

You can read the complete excerpt at the Borders website. Obviously, there’s a LOT more — and it’s ALL great. Make sure you read it. If you don’t plan to buy the book, at least save that page to your hard drive and read it, over and over again.

A note to anyone going to read the rest of the excerpt: it’s political. Highly so. If you’re a fan of the Bush administration or are easily offended by criticism of the president or his administration, do yourself a favor and ignore the link. In fact, here’s a taste, though you should feel free to skip it if you’re easily offended read it anyway:

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.”

Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don’t need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That’s not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re not outraged. This is a fight I’m ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, “Lee, you’re eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people.” I’d love to—as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I’m going to speak up because it’s my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I’ll tell you how I see it, and it’s not pretty, but at least it’s real. I’m hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don’t vote because they don’t trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.

Before you decide that the link isn’t (or is) for you, remember one thing: it’s not a Republican/Democrat thing. In fact, to once again quote Iacocca, “don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument, and it’s part of the reason we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions. We’re a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.”

Enjoy the reading.

One thought on “Lee Iacocca: Speaking Out

  1. This guy is great! He is willing to come out and say what needs to be said. Although I have never heard of him before, he is definitely one of the people who have the balls to say the truth.

    The only thing I don’t agree with is that youths are all stuck in their iPods. Many of my friends and I are very active in our community. We are making our voice hear. For instance, I have gone to our state legislator numerous times and personally know our representative. Additionally, there are thousands of critical, powerful blogs out there which are written by teens. However, it is hard to have your voice heard when most people write you off as just another iPod and drug addicted teen.

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