Katharine Graham was the only woman to head a Fortune 500 Company for most of her career, and also one of the most successful leaders, by far.
She took over the reigns of the Washington Post Company in 1963 after her husband committed suicide. As an interesting aside, her husband ran the company b/c Katharine’s own father put Katharine’s husband in charge over Katharine in the 1950s. As a sign of the times, Katharine thought nothing of it.
This is what I found most interesting – most of her success probably resulted from her exclusion from the “old boys” club. As the only woman CEO, she did everything differently and never followed the crowd b/c she wasn’t part of it.
1. Ask for help. She was not afraid to show her insecurities and ask for help. This is my favorite b/c all too many macho guys (especially 1960s CEOs) are afraid to ever show weakness and ask for help. But – it is necessary in any organization.
2. Don’t follow the crowd. She didn’t feel pressure to follow a crowd she wasn’t part of. This saved her often, as illustrated below.
3. Don’t embrace technology too soon. When all the other major publishers were jumping into color printing, she held off b/c of the cost. She only later embraced it when costs had fallen. Many of her competitors who embraced color too soon fell into financial distress, and she was able to buy them on the cheap.
This great lesson about technology applies as much as ever today.
4. She invited disagreement from her staff. This is a key trait among almost every long-term successful CEO profiled. Autocrats survive in the short run, but usually crash and burn in the long run.
I learned most of this from this excellent Investor’s Podcast about 8 extraordinary CEOs.
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