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.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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