What makes a great leader? Dartmouth professor Sydney Finkelstein notes one surprising finding he’s made: “ongoing, intensive one-on-one tutoring of their direct reports, either in person or virtually, in the course of daily work.”

Great leaders teach on a range of topics, but their best lessons—so relevant and useful that direct reports are often still applying and sharing them years later—fall into three buckets:


A manager who worked for real estate CEO and investor Bill Sanders told me that Sanders often gave advice on conducting oneself professionally. He explained how to effectively prepare for meetings, how to communicate a vision when attempting to sell, and how to look at the industry not as it is but as it could become. Protégés of Kamath have said that he showed them how to mentor subordinates in an appropriate and constructive manner—guiding them while still respecting their independence. Other managers spoke of learning from their leaders the value of emphasizing integrity and high ethical standards. “He started with credibility,” former Burger King CEO Jeff Campbell said of the late Norman Brinker, a legend in fast casual dining and one of Campbell’s early bosses. “It’s clear that he really cared about how guests felt and what kind of people he had working for him.” An executive who reported to Tommy Frist Jr. when he was the CEO of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) recounted that Frist sometimes lectured doctors about the need to put patients first. “Your duty,” he would tell them, “is to do just what you learned when you took the oath. If you ever have a business manager call you and encourage you to do something different from what you think is right, you call me, because the day we start doing that, we start shutting hospitals.”

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