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Advice Donnie Smith
Gave My Students

Don SmithDonald J. “Donnie” Smith, while serving as President and CEO of Tyson Foods, Inc., met with my leadership class numerous times. He is cited often and quoted extensively in Why It Matters: Reflections on Practical Leadership. Among his quotes are “say it in the room,” “ambiguity breeds mediocrity; clarity breeds excellence,”  “it’s important to never be satisfied,” “give people permission to fail,” “you have to be willing to accept the best efforts of team members, even when you know you could do better,” “your success is defined by whether or not you understand your purpose and you have patterned your life to fulfill it,” “create a culture so strong that it will reject those who try to reject it,” and “successful people are the ones who make difficult things look easy.” In addition to what is in the book, Donnie provided the following advice for students in my leadership class:

  • “Don’t be afraid to do something unconventional.”
  • “Too many people go along to get along. Have the courage to stand for what you believe.”
  • “Sit down, strap in, start asking questions, and figure out how to have an impact.”
  • “Know your stuff.”
  • “There is a difference in a standard of living and a standard for living.”
  • “Don’t mix up your identity with what is written on your business card.”
  • “Let bad news travel faster than good news.”
  • “Expend effort on targeted things to become an expert.”
  • “Give permission to fail, but don’t give permission to fail to execute.”
  • “It’s okay to screw up, but don’t screw around.”
  • “Shut up and listen.”
  • “Be the best at what you do.”
  • “Leadership is not about ‘X’s and ‘O’s; it is about Janes and Joes.”
  • “Do for one what you wish you could do for many.”
  • “Debate choices, but don’t debate right and wrong.”
  • “Effort separates great from good and good from average.”
  • “No one goes to work with the intention of performing poorly.”
  • “A great leader is someone who has a successor prepared to take over.”
  • “Everybody wants people who can multiply efforts.”
  • “Whatever job you have, decide you are going to be the best at it in your company.”
  • “Make the people around you better.”
  • “Develop transformable skills.”
  • “My role is to help you be all you can be.”
  • “Find the sweet spot between what you are good at and what you love to do.”
  • “If you are not playing to win, don’t play.”

“The captain of the ship cannot complain about how hot it is in the boiler room.”

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