Mike Duke’s 3 Lessons of Leadership

Leading Through Adversity: Mike DukeLast week Jeff Clapper of 8th & Walton was among a small group of supplier community leaders with whom Mike Duke to shared his thoughts on what makes a great leader.

Mr. Duke’s three keys to great leadership:

Be an agent of change. Sam Walton was not afraid of change — it’s how he revolutionized retail. When he saw France’s Carrefour’s hypermarché stores during a tour of Europe in the 1980s, he got the idea to combine groceries and general merchandise under one roof, at a deep discount. he called the stores  “Hypermart USA” and launched with four stores, which Mr. Duke said lost more than any four stores in the history of Walmart.

But the knowledge gained through that experience led to the Supercenter

Many of us resist change. Mr. Duke says we should encourage it. We need to make sure that our companies have a culture that celebrates change and that our people are not afraid to fail. Learn from the mistakes as well as the successes that can only be found in change.

Focus on the people. As Walmart’s CEO, David Glass told Lee Scott that although he was doing a great job leading Logistics, he couldn’t be promoted without a successor. Glass advised Scott to invest in recruiting and developing great people, at which point Mr. Duke was recruited to the company. About 90 days later, Glass called and asked if he was ready to lead Logistics. Because Scott had invested in developing a great team, the organization benefited from the promotions of Scott, Duke, and many others.

Focusing on your team includes both recruiting and developing. Hire the right people and invest in growing them, through professional development and training. The whole company will win.

Be worthy of trust. Mr. Duke said that he always enjoyed visiting with Walmart’s drivers, because the drivers would invariably give him the straight, unfiltered truth. On one such visit, a driver criticized a manager for having no integrity, and talked about an occasion when that manager had been disrespectful to another driver. In seeing that this had made an impact on the driver, Mr. Duke asked when the incident had occurred, to which the driver answered, “two years ago”.

“Integrity is measured by your lowest moment,” Mr. Duke said. “You can’t take the average. It’s not like retail sales, where we can say, ‘Last week was low, but this week we’re up, so on average, we’re doing alright.’”

Mr. Duke said that a leader could come back from a low moment, but only if the leader apologizes for the mistake and has a willingness to accept the consequences of his actions. This sets the stage for rebuilding the trust that is vital to a group’s success. The manager whose disrespectful behavior was remembered by the driver didn’t step up in that way. He might have thought his behavior would be forgotten, but it stayed on the driver’s mind for years.

The bigger the leadership role, the more important trust becomes.