Ron Felbar speaks at Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Economic Club

By Frank Weir

Legal News

Ron Felber, president of Chemetall U.S. Inc., believes there are lessons to be learned from past U.S. presidents and has written a book about it called, "Presidential Lessons in Leadership."

Felber spoke at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Economic Club luncheon on Monday this week, which is sponsored by several Chamber members.

Chemetall, along with corporate parent Rockwood Holdings, recently announced the planned construction of a $25 million manufacturing plant in Blackman Township for Rockwood's Chemetall U.S. Inc. business unit.

The plant will employ 74 individuals. The specialty chemical company supplies a variety of "surface treatments" and industrial cleaning preparations used in the manufacturing of durable goods.

Felber began by explaining how he found lessons in the administrations of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

"I came to believe that it will take more than traditional management theories to get us out of the situation we find ourselves in at this time in our history," he said.

"It will take great leadership. So I started to bone up on leadership theory and I found that most missed the mark.

"There seems to be three categories of leadership theory including the scientific model, the ego driven model and the model exemplified by Jim Collins' book, 'Good To Great.'

"But I discovered they were all talking about situational management, not leadership, in my opinion. And what we need is character-driven leadership.

"Character-driven leadership comes from deep inside a leader. We're talking about integrity, wisdom and creativity. That form always will be more effective and enduring.

"The presidents I studied all acted in a character driven way. And the lessons they mastered can be used by us in our business careers as well as in our day-to-day lives I think.

Felber began with Lincoln who historians rank at number one or two with Washington.

"Lincoln's greatest teaching was his ability to navigate beyond nearly insurmountable obstacles, never abandoning his humanity.

"And we can learn from him. Don't let your current environment dictate your future. Lincoln faced adversities but he lived his principles and set long-term goals that were larger than himself and his times.

He also surrounded himself with positive influences. In addition to his stepmother, he relied on only a very few books in his youth including the Bible, Aesop's Fables, The Columbian Orator, and Shakespeare.

"His stepmother and those works were the foundation for the character driven leader that he became.

"The Columbian Orator taught him his valuable rhetorical skills, Shakespeare gave him a gift for language, Aesop's Fables for story telling and the Bible, a spiritual basis.

"He used them all to maximum effect in his 'House Divided' speech and his debates with Douglas.

"When he chose his cabinet and other governmental advisers, he wanted the best minds available. Some were drawn from the ranks of his rivals but that didn't matter. He wanted the best.

"And he listened to and considered both sides to a question. He listened to the economic concerns of the slave states and the moral arguments of the northern abolitionists.

"He knew slavery was unsustainable but a harsh black and white approach would have escalated the conflict so he kept the Emancipation Proclamation in his desk for six months, waiting for just the right moment.

"What lessons can we learn? We need to accommodate the thoughts of others and our decisions should not be based on our own likes and dislikes. Leaders are open minded and stay true to their underlying principles."

For Washington, Felber noted his opportunistic nature in seeing opportunity, taking a risk and seizing it.

"Along with that is one of Washington's greatest lessons: that failure is part of the journey. We learn more from our failures.

"Washington suffered monumental failures, for example at the Battle of Long Island. But his attitude was to admit it, analyze what went wrong, make changes and move on into the future tougher and wiser.

"Failure does not exist for those who turn setbacks to opportunities for improvement."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt "needed to see the floor before the sky," Felber said.

"But it took the ravages of polio to bring Roosevelt to the level of seeing the majesty, the joys and the sorrows of humanity. It opened his eyes to a world that had never been visible to him.

"His first lesson? Don't hide from humanity. Don't pay others to keep things hidden from you, it's an exile from learning.

"And lesson two was Roosevelt's communication skills. He developed a bond with his countrymen through his 'fireside chats.' And written skills, with clarity, impact and brevity are vitally important for today's leaders too.

"Teddy Roosevelt was a most unique leader with passion, deep seated beliefs and wonderful communication skills. He also used every moment to improve his knowledge. A life-long student, he was a prodigy by the age of eight.

"He shows us the importance of developing on multiple levels or becoming irrelevant.

"And Teddy shows us you can lead from the middle of the pack. He famously said, 'Do what you can with what you have where you are.'

"He gave us a third lesson as well. To pursue our passion with no fear. Control the fear within you.

Felber said the John Kennedy's gift was that of critical thinking.

"People followed him since his ideas seemed to be the best option for the future. His powers of critical thinking shine forth even in the disastrous Bay of Pigs.

"His first lesson is to admit your mistakes and learn from them. He admitted the mistakes of the Bay of Pigs and moved on. What he learned there helped him navigate his way through the subsequent Cuban missile crisis.

"That crisis exemplifies his second lesson for us. Stay calm in the eye of the storm. Kennedy understood the consequences if he got the missile crisis wrong.

"Khrushchev wanted to find a way out but needed to save face so he agreed to Kennedy's proposition that he forego Cuban missiles and the U.S. would remove its missiles in Turkey. The confrontation was over.

"You may be at the center of a storm, but don't let the storm enter you."

In Ronald Reagan, Felber said we have two lessons.

"He saw the futility of a defense based on attack. He commented on how radar had protected Britain during World War II and he thought defensive satellites could do the same, forming a shield overhead.

"So his first lesson is to connect the dots. Define an objective and understand the environment that surrounds you to come up with an innovative solution.

"Reagan also showed the importance of preparing yourself for the long haul. In 1981 he presented his program for economic recovery and one year later, employment was worse among other economic measures.

"But he never lost faith and after two years, the economy had turned finally. Great leaders are not dilettantes. They all prepare for the long haul.

"These six presidents learned from every failure and used that knowledge to build a better self.

"The world faces massive challenges and cries out for change.

"And character driven leadership can help us accomplish the changes we need to make," he said.

Published: Mon, May 2, 2011

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