Huntsman Post

Operational Excellence Seminar Draws Hundreds to USU

By Paul Lewis Siddoway

A keynote speaker at a recent Partners in Business event said he found a leader worth emulating, especially when it comes to being completely honest with employees.

Jerry Bussell, a former vice president of Medtronics, a Fortune 200 company, is not the first one to recognize this leader and his reputation; after all he’s been referred to as “Honest Abe” for decades. He may be the first speaker, however, to build a keynote address at a Utah State University event around the theme that President Abraham Lincoln is a leader who could teach today’s business executives a thing or two.

Mr. Bussell, has done extensive research in leadership and is sought out for his insights. Mr. Bussell spoke about President Lincoln at the 37th Annual Partners In Business Operational Excellence Conference held in September. Partners in Business is sponsored by the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University.

Mr. Bussell outlined several other leadership principles he said President Lincoln modeled.

  • President Lincoln was fighting to preserve the Union, and wanted to eradicate slavery. But even more important to him, however, was that he uphold the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence. He had a clear vision of want he wanted to accomplish.
  • Mr. Bussell talked about the word "probity." “People can say that’s a pretty arcane word,” Mr. Bussell said. “Well probity is about complete honesty. It’s very specific. It’s not about being honest sometime, but all the time.” Mr. Bussell continued, saying probity begins with being completely honest with one’s self, so you can then be honest with everyone else.
  • If people want to follow President Lincoln’s example, Mr. Bussell said they should talk to and get to know employees and subordinates. It is the best way to build confidence and trust, he said.
  • Preparation and persistence were two qualities which are easily identified in President Lincoln, Mr. Bussell said. “His whole career he did a number of different jobs, and failed at a bunch of them. He failed as a storeowner. He wasn’t much of a soldier. He failed in a lot of election opportunities that he had, but he just kept learning. He became a surveyor. Then he studied and became a lawyer.”
  • Mr. Bussell said President Lincoln was known for sharing anecdotes, which Mr. Bussell said can be more persuasive than hard facts: “I found that when I’m trying to get my point across, trying to do it in a logical fashion, people put up all these walls, but if you tell them a story that makes sense to them, they can relate to it.”
  • Mr. Bussell said putting good people in bad processes will continue to turn out bad results, and the solution is to fix the process. Speaking of President Lincoln, Mr. Bussell said, “He had a lot of failures with generals, but once he had the right people in there, it was all about getting people going after the right things in the right fashion.”

After examining President Lincoln’s leadership style, Mr. Bussell encouraged students and business leaders at the conference to be leaders and visionaries, and then turn around and teach those principles to others.