10 Business Leaders You Should Strive To Emulate

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Note: This article was originally published on OPEN Forum. It is republished here with permission.

Great leadership can be hard to come by. With all the politics and blaming that can go on within an organisation, many companies are lacking good, solid leadership from people who are willing to stick to their word.

That’s why it’s always refreshing to see examples of great leadership in our society.

Here are 10 examples of top-notch leadership from leaders who ultimately led by example, letting their actions (and bottom lines) speak for themselves.

Click here to see the list >

How Southwest handled 9/11

Southwest is known for their customer service. In an industry fraught with awful customer service, Southwest distanced itself from other airlines by putting the customer first, no matter what the situation.

On September 11, 2001, airlines were forced to shut down for days while the rest of the nation recovered from the terrorist attacks. This meant that all airline passengers, flight attendants and pilots were stranded with the planes across the country. Instead of merely sitting and waiting, Southwest employees were encouraged to take passengers bowling or to the movies to pass the time.

Many airlines started cutting jobs in the months following 9/11. The airline industry had been badly damaged, and many airlines were forced to cut their workforce by up to 20%. Instead of following the trend, Southwest made an announcement only three days after 9/11 that Southwest would be keeping all of their employees and starting a $179.8 million profit sharing payment to employees.

Southwest CEO James Parker believed that because Southwest had built their company on sound business principles for the past 30 years, they were able to handle crisis better than other airlines.

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Costco's CEO is the Normal Guy

Over the past five years Jim Sinegal has shepherded his company Costco to impressive returns. Costco's stock has doubled, and revenues continue to grow at an impressive rate.

Yet Sinegal might be better known as a man of the people at Costco. His name tag plainly says 'Jim,' he answers his own phone, and his plain office at the company headquarters doesn't even have walls. While other CEO's are spending tens of thousands of dollars just decorating their offices, Sinegal's pays himself a yearly salary of $350,00. Most CEOs of large company are paid in the millions. His simple contract is only a page long, and even includes a section that outlines how he can be terminated for not doing his work.

So how did he come up with that number? He figured he shouldn't be paid more than 12 people working on the floor.

His employee turnover rate is the lowest in the retail industry, over five times less than rival Wal-Mart. In an age where CEOs are paid in the millions and would never be seen in the 'trenches,' Jim Sinegal is an anomaly. And his workers love him for it.

How Starbucks' CEO handled company tragedy

Starbucks is known for its exceptional treatment of employees, offering things like insurance to even part-time workers. When tragedy struck the company, it's no surprise that their CEO was able to comfort a hurting store and community.

In 1997 three employees were killed in a bumbled robbery of one of their Washington D.C. stores. Instead of issuing a press release or calling legal counsel, CEO Howard Schultz flew straight to D.C. and spent the entire week with the employees and their families in the area. Schultz's compassion and incredible leadership helped heal those closest to the tragedy.

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How Nelson Mandela's father made tribal decisions

Nelson Mandela is easily the most recognisable name in the Mandela family. Few people know of Mandela's adoptive father, Chief Jongintaba. Mandela credits Chief Jongintaba as a major source of leadership learning, and Mandela learned how to make important decisions based on how his father interacted with his tribe.

Chief Jongintaba was a tribal king, and would frequently hold meetings of the court. Men from all walks of life would gather in a circle and express their opinion. The Chief waited until every everyone had spoken before he would enter the conversation.

Mandela would later use his father's technique, gathering leaders at his kitchen table or in his driveway and holding discussions. Mandela would always listen first, and speak last.

TDIndustries avoids bankruptcy by trusting employees

TDIndustries is employee-owned and consistently on Forbes' Best Companies to Work For list. But the company almost didn't make it through the late 1980's without savvy leadership.

Many Texas banks were failing in the late 1980's, and TDIndustries was hurting greatly by the lack of funds needed to do large construction jobs. The company leadership informed their employees that instead of filing for bankruptcy, they were going to pay out the Defined Retirement Plan to its employees, and asked employees to use that money to reinvest into the company.

Because of the company's transparency and trust in their employees, the employees responded by giving back 30% more than what the company asked for. The money helped stabilise the company, and they weathered the rough financial spell.

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Toro adds empathy to a lawsuit policy

Toro was going through major financial troubles in the late 1980's, and after a series of firings placed Ken Melrose as the CEO. Melrose was able to cut serious costs on lawsuits against the company by making a slight change: he added empathy.

Toro manufactures commercial lawn and golf course management equipment, and because of the machinery experiences many lawsuits. The company yearly sees around 100 serious injuries on average. Toro started sending a company representative to meet with the injured person and their family to see what went wrong, express the company's sympathy and try to attend to any needs the injured family might have.

Before they instituted the change, around half of the injuries resulted in a lawsuit. After the change, that number dropped to only a single lawsuit since 1991.

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