Don Davis on leadership

I’m visiting State College in February, and that has me thinking about Maralyn Mazza, a friend of mine there. She and her late husband Paul founded the South Hills School of Business and Technology in Central Pennsylvania. Like many, Maralyn’s family connections to Penn State are deep. Her father, Donald W. Davis, Sr., taught at Penn State for decades in the early 20th century and created the first advertising curriculum for the university.

After breakfast on a visit with Maralyn a few years ago, she told me about her late brother Don Davis, former chairman and CEO of Stanley Works (now Stanley Black & Decker). In addition to lecturing for 21 years at MIT on leadership, he also created the Don Davis Program in Ethical Leadership through Penn State’s College of Communications. A little about the program is showcased here:

Its mission:

to promote professional, academic and personal integrity within the community of the College of Communications at Penn State. The program has a special focus on the development of responsibility and integrity among undergraduates in the College as part of their preparation to be the principled leaders of tomorrow’s media institutions.

One of the things that Maralyn told me about her brother that really struck me was how proud he was to have graduated from Penn State with his undergraduate degree, rather than from a Yale or Harvard, because he felt it made him a better executive. Less assuming, hungrier.

Don Davis

I really wish I had gotten the chance to meet Don. From everything I’ve learned about him, and heard about him from those who knew him best, he was a living example of great American character. But I left State College after that visit with Maralyn feeling a bit like I had gotten a chance to know him, and part of that was through his “Little Red Book,” a set of leadership principles:

  1. Spend your free time with positive people.
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You really are not indispensable.
  3. Look for opportunities to practice leadership.
  4. Get plenty of exercise—in direct proportion to the stress you have.
  5. Try to see humor and opportunities in all problem situations.
  6. Avoid dealing with someone you don’t trust.
  7. Focus on the job at hand—remember that promotions don’t come to people who lust for power.
  8. Leadership is service (stewardship) based on trust.
  9. Treat each person with respect.
  10. You don’t have to answer a question just because someone asks it.
  11. The more you use and rely on power and authority the less you have left.
  12. Don’t make tough, borderline decisions until you have to.
  13. When in doubt, get more information.
  14. When confronted with a subordinate who is cutting an ethical corner or playing self-serving politics—make an issue of it on the spot (in private).
  15. When you feel overwhelmed or ill-prepared, call time out—start shedding stuff.
  16. If your boss tells you to do something that you know is a mistake—don’t do it—just keep talking. In other words never get in a position where you say: “I knew it was wrong when I did it.”
  17. Don’t lose your integrity—hard to get back.
  18. Don’t turn down a challenge. If you do, it will be hard to live with your decision.
  19. Remember in any organization ethical standards will be no higher than those of its leader.
  20. If you don’t know what’s going on—shut up and listen—even questions may divulge your ignorance.
  21. Don’t be afraid to admit you “don’t know.”
  22. Don’t make an important personnel change if your “gut” says no.
  23. Body language telegraphs your feelings as much or more than words.
  24. “Talking the talk” does no good unless you “walk the walk.”
  25. When dealing with borderline ethical decisions—just ask—would it bother me to be in the headline tomorrow?
  26. Develop a pattern of doing pro-bono or volunteer work in the community.
  27. In evaluating people—one good test—would I enjoy spending a weekend with this person?
  28. The more responsibility and demands on you the more you must protect your time and keep a balance in your life.

I hope any Penn Staters who come across this list will feel like they got a chance to “meet” Don, too.

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