The one secret that all great leaders know
I’ve spoken with a lot of leaders over my nearly two decades as a journalist: politicians, CEOs and much more. A few were truly great. Many unfortunately weren’t.
Those who were outstanding seemed to get an important truth: that life is more than about money or fulfilling personal needs.
People need to care about something greater than themselves. Show them a cause worth working and fighting for, and they will follow.
Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken, who passed away late last year, grasped that insight early on. Each of Medtronic’s 86,000 employees still receives a medallion that encapsulates the mission statement Bakken wrote nearly 60 years ago: “Contributing to human welfare by the application of biomedical engineering to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life.”
Bakken also knew the importance of a related corollary: walking the walk.
When Medtronic recalled its Fidelis defibrillator leads – used in hundreds of thousands of U.S. patients – the company’s stock took a hit. Reva Medical CEO Reggie Groves, then charged with running Medtronic’s regulatory & quality business, recalled that a phone call from Bakken assured her that the company did the right thing.
“Earl Bakken called us that day. He was probably the single biggest loser of value that day, but he thanked us for doing the right thing for the patients,” Groves said at our DeviceTalks West event in December.
“He led by example,” said former Medtronic CEO William Hawkins at a recent company ceremony honoring Bakken. “Earl lived his whole life dedicated to improving the human condition.”
Bakken also knew when it was time to step aside and let other run Medtronic’s day-to-day operations, added ex-CEO Art Collins.
“He remained a quiet leader who never really left the company,” Collins said. “Whether as a board member or simply in his founder role, Earl’s presence was always felt and appreciated by employees, physicians and the patients we all served.”
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few CEOs over the years that demonstrated similar qualities, but perhaps no one exemplified it more than Bakken.
The medical device industry was lucky to have such a founding father.