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Fred Smith's Golden Rule for CEOs: Be Selfless

Fred Smith, the founder and chairman of FedEx, is one of the country's most brilliant and well-read CEOs. He's especially fond of reading military histories of figures such as Alexander the Great and seeking clues to leadership from them.

In one of my meetings with him over the years, Smith blurted out the secret to leadership in both the military and corporate worlds. (So you, dear webizen, don't have to spend months or years reading dusty old books.)

Here is Smith's secret to effective leadership: "It's the willingness of the leader to put the interests of the organization above his (or her) own interests." The reason that's such a profound observation is that, in the corporate context, a CEO who imposes a certain discomfort on himself and defers financial rewards is likely to make better long-term decisions that grow a business. And that kind of selflessness is a huge morale boost. People want to follow someone who isn't just out for his bonus or his stock options.

By establishing that kind of culture, a CEO can expect that at least some of that same spirit will cascade down the ranks of the organization. People will feel that they have a mission together. It won't be ridiculous for people to say: "We're all in this together."

So think about it as you build your organization. Don't be a general who lives in the lap of heated luxury while your men and women are cold and hungry outside.

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