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5 Leadership Lessons from UPS CEO David Abney

Consume this post as a podcast episode:

Recently I got the chance to sit in a talk given by David Abney, CEO of UPS. It was fantastic, and his perspective on leadership was inspiring. Here are some of the things I learned.

Five leadership lessons from David Abney, CEO of UPS

Do not wait to make the perfect decision.

The pace of business is fast and getting faster. Any leader who tries to make the perfect decision by getting perfect information upfront will end up making the perfect, outdated decision. A leader needs to complete due diligence before making a decision, but time is no longer on our side. Decisions have to keep up.

Avoid being complacent.

Preference for the status quo is the biggest sickness an organization can have. “Stay the course” is not a good strategy because the course is continually changing. Any company that merely stays the course will miss the critical corrections needed to guide an organization and will be passed by competitors.

Jack Welch once said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Current opportunities will not persist. Leaders must recognize those opportunities and act on them while there is time. To ensure success, you have to be willing to transform.

Never waste a good crisis.

A crisis requires leaders to act and be decisive. The best leaders will rise to the top during the crisis, while the worst will fade away (or run away). Even though a crisis may be terrible, there are growth opportunities within them for the leaders who want their organizations to learn and grow.

Give credit for success to other people.

A leader leads a team, and if the team does well, it’s due to the group, not just the leader. Great leaders raise up their teams, pointing to them every chance they get. When things go wrong, great leaders take responsibility, rather than assigning blame.

Opportunity isn’t something we are entitled to; it’s something we earn.

A pitcher pitches the ball. The opportunity to hit the ball is there for the batter. But, to take the opportunity, the batter has to swing. Opportunity isn’t owed to anyone; it tends to come to those who work for it. A leader has to be ready to take the swing.

Q & A Time

During the question and answer time, I asked, “what personality trait do you look for most in a leader?” Mr. Abney gave me two:

  1. Humility — good leaders shouldn’t use the “I” word all the time.
  2. Team First — good leaders are willing to put the company and the team above personal interests.

Other nuggets

At one point, Mr. Abney said, “Don’t let people tell you what you can’t do.” He was advocating unwavering belief in yourself and went on to quip that his family knows that if they tell him he can’t do something, he will most definitely get it done.

It took Mr. Abney 40 years at UPS before he became CEO. That requires a fantastic tenacity that I find inspiring.

As forward-thinking as Mr. Abney is, he loves history. I can’t help but wonder if his love for history gives him a perspective that has helped him in guiding and growing UPS.

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

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