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Review: Leadership Lessons From a UPS Driver by Ron Wallace

leadership-lessonsThis review first ran in the Sept. 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Leadership Lessons From a UPS Driver: Delivering a Culture of We, Not Me

By Ron Wallace



UPS was having a rough start expanding into Germany.

The company’s sales force was running out of leads.

So everyone was brought together to regroup, recharge and kick around ideas for drumming up new business.

A senior executive joined the conference and was asked to give closing remarks.

Instead of a pep talk, he announced they were staying an extra night.

They had an hour to change out of their dress clothes and meet in front of the hotel. And they had to show up brandishing knives and scissors.

Locals lined the streets as the executive led the UPS parade out of the hotel and into the heart of the village. They wound up in an alley behind a stretch of shops and stores. The executive then rolled up his sleeves and led the team into dumpsters where they pulled out boxes and cut off shipping and receiving labels.

Once they had cut up every box, they marched back to the hotel conference room.

“The fruits of our work were stacks of torn and dirty labels, and our marathon sorting session lasted the rest of the night,” remembered Ron Wallace who was one of two UPS district managers working in Germany at the time. “Soon people began to realize what they had in front of them was gold nuggets. They were leads – solid leads because they were from real shippers and real receivers.”

The dumpster-diving senior executive demonstrated an ability to be creative, one of four key characteristics for effective leadership identified by Wallace in his book Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver.

Along with creativity, leaders need to be great at:

Matching the right person to the right job. “The best leaders execute the selection and assignment process with surgical precision,” says Wallace. They also know when the right person is in the wrong job and have the courage to make the necessary change.

Removing the fog to clearly communicate with the team. Effective leaders state their expectations and then follow up.  “You would be surprised how many leaders just assume their team knows what to do. Assuming anything in a leadership role is a mistake.”

Inspiring others to go higher. “The best leaders are great encouragers, and they inspire their team to achieve more than they ever thought possible. Performance without acknowledgement kills morale. If all you ever do is state expectations and measure performance, be ready to lead a lifeless team.”

Wallace worked at UPS for four decades, getting his start as a part-time driver. He credits the no-nonsense, no-frills company for giving him a PhD in teamwork and leadership.

Wallace worked his way up in the company, becoming president of UPS International and leading more than 60,000 employees working in over 200 countries and territories.

A part-time driver becoming president of international operations is par for the course at UPS with its preference for promoting from within and a founding principle of treating everyone equally. That equal treatment includes giving all staff opportunities for training and development and moving into leadership roles.

“Managers who start with the organization and rise through its ranks are likely to be more committed, aligned and knowledgeable than those brought in laterally from the outside,” says Wallace. “We promote from within to ensure that the company can pass on our legacy and culture seamlessly from one generation to the next.”

Effective leaders work both smarter and harder than anyone else on their team and also stay humble. They’re focused on getting things done through others rather than drawing attention and accolades to themselves.

“It’s okay to enjoy your accomplishments but don’t ever think that your achievements make you better than those around you,” says Wallace. “Nor should you ever think that it was you alone who got you there.”

Even if you’re not keen on taking your team dumpster-diving in downtown Hamilton in search of sales leads, this book is loaded with common sense leadership lessons from a 99-year-old company that delivers 18 million packages and envelopes every day.

@jayrobb reviews business books for the Hamilton Spectator, serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.

Review – Joel Kotkin’s The Human City: Urbanism For The Rest of Us

human-city-1This review first ran in the Sept. 12 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us

By Joel Kotkin



“Sprawl is caused by affluence and population growth, and which of these exactly, do we propose to inhibit?”

George Easterbrook, contributing editor of The Atlantic and Washington Monthly, posed the question that’s worth debating here in Hamilton.

Joel Kotkin would make the argument that we need densification downtown plus dispersion on our suburban edges if we want continued economic growth in Steeltown. He’d also tell us that reports of suburbia’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Kotkin is a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and author of The Human City.

As churches, vacant lots and parking lots get turned into condos downtown, we’re banking on high-earning and free-spending young professionals moving in. Many will eventually want to start a family. That’ll be tough to do in a one-bedroom, 800 square-foot glass box 20-storeys above James St. North.

So one of three things will happen.

Young professionals will move out of their condos and into affordable single family homes with backyards, front porches and driveways in middle-class, family-friendly and congestion-free suburban neighbourhoods.

A shortage of homes for growing families will young professionals out of Hamilton and into smaller, surrounding communities where they can buy more house for less money.

Or they’ll postpone or cancel plans to have kids because it’s unaffordable and there’s nowhere to go to raise a family.

While the second option is bad, the third choice is even worse.

“Cities with few children and families will prove fundamentally unsustainable, deprived of a base from which they can draw new workers and consumers, as well as critical sources of both parental motivation and youthful innovation,” says Kotkin.

San Francisco’s a cautionary tale. There are now 80,000 more dogs than kids and the urban core has the highest percentage of households without children of any major U.S. city.

“Successful urban areas will be those that provide not only the vibrant districts that attract the young but also those, usually less dense, places that can help preserve the family’s place.”

For many families, those less dense places will be out in the ‘burbs.

“In reality, for most residents of cities, life is not about engaging the urban ‘entertainment machine’ or enjoying the most spectacular views from a high-rise tower,” says Kotkin. “To them, the goal is to achieve residence in a small home in a modest neighbourhood, whether in a suburb or in the city, where children can be raised and also where, of increasing importance, seniors can grow old amid familiar places and faces.”

That goal gets harder to reach as restrictions get put on suburban development. Urban policy should be about choices and not government edicts, says Kotkin.  “The notion that development be ‘steered’ into ever-denser pockets violates the wishes of the vast majority. These attitudes reflect a remarkable degree of disrespect and even contempt toward the choices people make. If people move to the periphery, it is not because they are deluded or persuaded by advertising but because they perceive that is where their quality of life is higher…The attempt to reduce the space and privacy enjoyed by households is not progressive but fundamentally regressive.”

Kotkin sees cities as more than the dense and crowded places envisioned by planners, downtown developers and urbanists.

“To some advocates, these are the only places that matter because they express ‘superior’ urban virtues pertaining to environmental or cultural values. Their notion of improving cities is less about luring people there with amenities that appeal to families and more about shoving development into dense transit nodes, increasing the ‘sustainability’ and profitability of their developments…Planners, politicians and pundits often wax poetic about these massive new building projects and soaring residences made up of hundreds of tiny stacked units, but there’s just one problem with this brave new condensed world: most people, including many inner-city residents, aren’t crazy about it.’

Kotkin’s unlikely to be invited to deliver the summit keynote speech to a banquet hall full of Hamilton urbanists. Yet he makes a convincing case for why doubling down on densification while restricting dispersion in suburbia is a bad idea if we want our city to be the best place to raise a child.

“No field of study – technical or in the humanities – thrives when only one side or perspective is allowed free reign and granted a dispensation from criticism. The question of the future of cities is too important to be hemmed in by dogma and should instead invite vigorous debate and discussion.”

Jay Robb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and reviews business books for the Hamilton Spectator.