Leadership Lessons from John D. Rockefeller


As a history major, I thought about writing a post about leadership skills from past business leaders, politicians etc. I thought about John C. Calhoun because of his determination, but he had so many flaws and is rather controversial. When I got to thinking about it, most of the great men and women I learned about in class did have their fair share of flaws. But that doesn’t mean we can not learn from them.

Some of the largest businessmen in our history were deeply flawed such as Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller. They were men of the monopoly and trust period who demolished and destroyed smaller companies and competition. There are still however crucial skills we can learn from them to raise our own leadership skills. Rockefeller provides us four:

1. Determine Your Goals
Your goals can be anything, they can be related to work or personal. The object of them is to help you stay driven, and to develop a purpose for your life and work. Rockefeller received his first paycheck at 16, and he promised when he retired he would give one tenth of his money to charity. He ended up giving away an estimated 550 million dollars to philanthropies. So next time your in leadership development training, don’t blow off your goal setting but use it to harness your drive and to motivate yourself. You will ultimately be more successful because you will have a clear focus that you have set for yourself.

2. Listen to Those Closest to You
Rockefeller’s mom taught him to work, to save, and to give to charities. Rockefeller did just that, and his fortune amounted to 53% (Forbes) off the U.S. economy at that time.  The likelihood of that happening for us… slim to none. However, notice Rockefeller did exactly what his mom said and capitalized as a result. We tend to overlook advice from our family and friends. We can learn from Rockefeller that it pays to listen to the people closest to you. But most of all you have to apply the knowledge they give you.

3. Be a Planner not a Gambler
As leaders, we are all involved in championing change and providing innovative ideas to our organizations. New ideas, we all know are scary and frightening. Rockefeller had his fair share of risk and frightening ideas, but he always precisely calculated them. He didn’t involve himself in speculation and made sure he calculated that his ideas would be successful. And when he decided on an idea, “He would act quickly and boldly to see it through to fruition.” (PBS) Plan your ideas or the changes you wish to implement. Create a vision and then follow through with it. Be bold and don’t hesitate.

4. Relax. Take a break. Have some fun.

Evidence suggests that Rockefeller eventually experienced an emotional breakdown due to overwork. Relaxing is something that as leaders we need to do, and encourage others to do. In Kevin Eikenberry’s Remarkable Leadership Learning System he includes a reflect, record, and rejoice packet for the participants at the end of each months lesson. In it he tells participants to enjoy a special treat to reward themselves for their successes. Even little things like a rewarding yourself with a candy bar can help you relax and revive your body from all of its hard work. We all know we need to relax at some point, but do you really do it?

We can learn alot from studying history and the successes and failures people make.

Guest post by Kim, Not Your Ordinary Intern

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