Laura Putre
Honore 618c44d7f3ae9

‘Do the Routine Things Well. Be Decisive. Embrace the Impossible.’

Nov. 10, 2021
Leadership lessons from the general who saved the Hurricane Katrina rescue mission.

Lt. General Russel L. Honoré earned a couple of memorable nicknames for his standout leadership during Hurricane Katrina, when he stepped in and turned a bungled disaster response into a successful rescue mission: “The Category 5 General” and “one John Wayne dude.” When he found the military and police with their guns raised, herding civilians, Honoré stepped in and ordered them to put down their weapons and start carrying babies to safety; he brought a well-thought-out plan executed with humanity and compassion.

Honoré struck characteristic notes of authority, humor and wisdom in his keynote at the Manufacturing & Technology Show in Cleveland. “The past 18 months, we’ve been challenged,” he told the audience of manufacturing, safety and energy executives. “For every challenge, every disaster, there is a great opportunity. And I’ll be damned if you didn’t get better in the last 18 months.”

He also shared his three tenets for great leadership: 

Do Routine Things Well.

“You think how hard we have it today,” said Honoré. “Think about this:” Lacking boats and with 50% of his Army missing from the battlefield, General George Washington inspired a band of farmers and bricklayers to enlist their own boats and fight in the Battle of Trenton. Washington taught that makeshift band of soldiers “to set up camp at the river and put the horses upstream for the night. And he got his employees to buy into the mission: “Many of these soldiers could not read. So he inspired his people with the words of the great Thomas Paine: we win this, we will win freedom.”

“How do you inspire your employees to buy into your mission?” he added. “The lesson there is every employee must know that if we achieve our objective, we will participate in the bounty of success. And it's not just the C-suite that get new Escalades. It’s everybody, everybody in the organization, when the mission is accomplished, benefit from the bounty of success. That's how Washington got the soldiers to go out in this miserable weather. When half of them were suffering from pneumonia and upper respiratory disease, they bought into the bounty of success and that success would be freedom. How do we inspire our workers? To know if we meet our objective, they too will get a piece of stock.”

Be Decisive

“At the end of the [Revolutionary] War, a lot of Northern states wrote, saying ‘George, we ain't paying taxes. And he didn't hesitate as a leader. He talked to his aid and he said ‘Saddle up Nelson [his white horse]. Give us 2,500 troops and we moving north.’ The next morning he started to move and two and a half days right out of Washington—the spy network was working and it got back to the North- the North said, ‘George don’t come up here. We’ll pay the damn taxes.' You have to know when to saddle up Nelson.’”

A CEO earned Honoré’s disdain at a board meeting, when the executive demonstrated he didn’t know when to kick that figurative horse into gear: “The executive team was breezing through the wins and losses,” Honoré recalled. “And one of the executives said, ‘Well we lost Boeing last week.’ And somebody said ‘What happened?’ ‘Fulfillment.’

"I said, ‘Wait a minute. You got two words, loss and Boeing—one of the biggest companies in the world. CEO, have you been out there to see the Boeing people? Boeing must have been complaining at some point in time. You've got to get out there to see what the hell's going on.’”

Embrace the Impossible

“We are ripe for more innovation,” said Honoré. “Embrace technology. You want your preferred customers to get directly to you; there are programs that do that. The roofs in your facilities catch water—they could be catching energy.

“You want to create an innovation program, you create what I call the ‘Damn impossible list.' ‘The view in manufacturing you engineer outside your office ought to be a list of the impossible.

“Leadership requires big sacrifice,” he added. “Why? Because in order to lead, you’ve got to get people to change. In order to lead, you’re going to be criticized. And if you’re not changing, you’re falling behind.”

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

I work with IndustryWeek's contributors and report on leadership and the automotive industry as they relate to manufacturing. Got a story idea? Reach out to me at [email protected]


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