Cornerstone: February 2011

Leaders, young and old, are destined to succeed
January 31, 2011
Written by Lyle Quan
The two books I’ll discuss here may not immediately seem to fit together, but after you read what I have to say, you will see the connection.

The books are Geeks and Geezers, by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas, and Raving Fans, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. The first book looks at the differences between two generations called  geeks and geezers – and the second book discusses how to identify what our customers want and need and how to make them happy.

In Geeks and Geezers, the authors interviewed more than three dozen people and gathered their stories to give readers some food for thought regarding leadership and lifelong learning. The interviewees range in age from under 35 to 70 and older; the geeks are 35 and younger while the geezers are those who are 70 and older. The authors note that although these two generations grew up at different times and with different tools (such as typewriters or computers) at their disposal, they also grew up with different values. For example, the geezers embrace hard work and staying with one company for life. The geeks, however, seem to be more self-fulfilling – they are still very dedicated to their careers and their employers, but they are more apt to change jobs than those of past generations.

All of the people interviewed thrived in the world of leadership, no matter their age or their background. Regardless of the generation, each leader became the author of his or her own destiny. There are some commonalities between the two generations of leaders: they appear to have the ability to learn and grow from each experience they encounter; and they all, young and old, recognize the values of lifelong learning and meeting the needs of their customers and employees. I see many of these leaders as servant leaders who put others first, yet have a strong internal drive to achieve, no matter the obstacles.

As you read through the interviews, commentary and comparisons, you will see a thread that connects these individuals. The connection goes beyond age, country of origin and gender. The thread is the need to learn and grow as individuals. All those interviewed demonstrated a strong drive to experience as much as they could in everything they do.

One of the most important messages in this book is that leaders exist in all generations. It’s not age or background that makes you a leader; it’s the desire, drive and commitment to achievement. The book notes that we can learn from all generations.

The second book, Raving Fans, presents its message in a story format. The reader follows a new manager who is told by the president of the company that the previous managers were no longer with the firm because they seemed to lose sight of the value of customer service.

The new manager is brought to understand that he needs to create satisfied customers who rave about the service they receive from the organization. In the fire service, we sometimes forget that the community we serve is the customer. For the most part, the fire service is rated highly on the satisfaction scale, but if we let our guard down, this ranking can drop quickly.

The authors recommend that we deliver what we promise and be ready to change direction if necessary. The three keys to creating raving fans, or satisfied customers, are to:
  1. Decide what you want.
  2. Discover what the customer wants.
  3. Deliver the vision, plus one per cent.
Decide what you want: This creates an idea that is centred on the customer and is accomplished by thinking about the whole customer service experience: What would you want if you were the customer?

Discover what the customer wants:
To find out what customers want, ask them and listen to what they say. This helps us better understand the needs of the community. If those needs turn out to be different than you expected, you have a gap that needs to be filled. But as the authors note, there is only so much that you can do; we cannot be everything to everybody.

Deliver the vision, plus one per cent: Consistently meet your customers’ expectations. To do this, you must have policies, procedures and systems in place and a training program to ensure that your staff understand how to meet the customers’ needs.

If you haven’t seen the connection between the two books yet, let me enlighten you. Both books identify the need to promote leaders who are driven to meet the needs of their staff, their customers and, most of all, themselves. Both books promote the concept of learning from your experiences and from others. And finally, both books promote commitment to meeting challenges head on.

These motivating books can be obtained through Amazon and Chapters.

Lyle Quan is the fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He has a business degree in emergency services and a degree in adult education. Lyle is an Associate Instructor for the Ontario Fire College, Lakeland College and Dalhousie University. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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