Answer all the questions

Aug 27, 2018

The things we need to do to be great leaders are right in front of us, but we must also be deliberately consistent.

Phillip Van Hooser spoke in Reno a few months ago. He is the author of the best-selling book Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership. I’m impressed with Van Hooser’s common sense approach to leadership and his tidy list of 12 ways to maximize professional impact:

  1. Always offer your assistance.
  2. Take a minute longer than is necessary.
  3. Do more than is expected.
  4. Don’t whine, don’t whisper, don’t wonder.
  5. Guard your reputation.
  6. Never compromise your reputation.
  7. Commit to constant improvement.
  8. Work to solve problems, rather than place blame.
  9. Be loyal.
  10. Strive for excellence, not perfection.
  11. Don’t give up, give out.
  12. Be thankful.

Van Hooser could have taken this list from my own leadership playbook. His tenets closely match how I tried to conduct myself in my career.

My father, who owned a bakery in Hayward, California, lived by these principles, providing me with the perfect role model from the time I started working in the bakery at age 5, folding donut boxes.

This also reminds me of a story told to me by Mike Vance, when my children were young and constantly pestering their mother and me with questions. Mike had been a congregational minister for 10 years before he joined Walt Disney as a creative director – now there’s a career path for you. Walt was a penny pincher, checking every dime spent in the Disney organization. At one point, Walt noticed a number of requests for small reimbursements from the Story Department, which worked on cartoons. Walt sent Mike out to investigate.

Mike found these reimbursement requests were little “tips” given to a young boy who would sneak onto the studio lot (he lived in the neighborhood across the street) and wander into the animators’ building. The stories created there involved developing a storyline, then making many little sketches of what the visuals would be and pasting them onto a storyboard. The storyboards were hung in a broad corridor to solicit comments from people passing by. The animators befriended the young boy, who would ask about what he saw. They would engage in long conversations and get great ideas from him, worth well in excess of the small tips they paid him.

Walt asked Mike to visit with the boy’s family and give the child a permanent pass onto the studio lot. Mike figured out where the boy lived, knocked on the door and introduced himself to the mother and father. They were appalled that their son had been sneaking onto the lot, but Mike reassured them. He handed the parents a permanent studio pass issued by Disney himself, allowing their son to come by anytime. But Mike was curious about this young boy and asked the parents what they had done to make him so thoughtful and bright.

They said he was just an ordinary kid, got decent grades, played little league – just a normal boy. Mike was frustrated and, as he was leaving, asked the question one more time. The father thought about it for a minute and finally said, “I just answered all his questions.” Brilliant! After I heard Mike’s story, I started doing that with my kids and, sure enough, they grew into inquisitive and intelligent adults. I notice today that my kids model that same behavior with my granddaughters

There are a number of life lessons – for parents, employees, managers, and business leaders – buried in the Disney anecdote and Van Hooser’s 12 suggestions for common sense leadership. We just need to take note and work to put the suggestions into practice. The most important realization for me, however, was that we must be deliberately consistent.

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

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