Polaris Industries, Inc. (NYSE: PII) has been a favorite company of mine for a number of reasons: they make the outdoors fun, they continue to show an extremely strong return on equity, which is great for investors, and they benefit from capable leadership.
Recently, I spent an hour with CEO and Chairman of the Board, Scott Wine. Scott has been at the helm of Polaris since 2008 and has helped continue Polaris’ journey to growth, innovation, and success. While Scott’s experiences at UTC Fire & Security and as president of Danaher’s Jacobs Vehicle Systems provided industry and corporate experience, perhaps as important in shaping his leadership style was his career as a supply officer on a guided missile frigate in the Navy and later working directly for General Colin Powell. Mission, accountability, duty, and support are underpinnings of service to country and of Scott’s leadership philosophy.
I wanted to understand Scott’s view on leadership, answering the general question of “what makes for an effective leader?” We spent an extremely enjoyable hour exploring four keys to leadership effectiveness, plus his take on creating a lasting legacy as a leader.
“One of the leadership attributes that I rate highly for anyone who works for me is critical thinking,” Scott shared. “The ability to see around corners. As people get into leadership roles, their teams are looking for them to have a little bit more insight, a little bit more knowledge, that ability to critically think through issues and help them see a perspective that's a little broader or a little more enlightening than what they may have gotten on their own.”
When I asked how one acquires the insights needed, Scott explained: “It requires humility and the ability to learn. It requires a curiosity. And if we're honest with ourselves, it requires a certain degree of intellect. I mean, you've got to be reasonably smart to be able to take a bunch of potentially disparate things and pull them together in a way that makes sense to help you get a better answer to something.”
Scott suggested also that to gain insight and perspective, “good leaders need to be approachable. In fact, not only be approachable, they should regularly be out and about and talking to people. You improve your perspective on everything the more input you get.”
He used his predecessor, former Chairman of the Board, Greg Palen, as an example of seeking input: “Greg was really good at that. One of the things I learned from him — he was the chairman of the board when I first started — is how very solicitous he was of other people's input.”
Great leaders develop insight by building strong relationships and actively seeking others’ input and perspectives.
Focus on Performance
In addition to being able to provide insights, Scott continued: “Great leaders focus on performance.” We all are here to do a job. We were hired to accomplish something — to build something, to sell, to market, to ship. Great leaders focus on the performance of their people and on their effectiveness in enabling their people’s performance.”
Scott elaborated. “One of the first things I tell people is, ‘We're not in third grade anymore. Trying doesn't count. I honestly don't care how hard you work or how hard you try; we are in a results-oriented business.’” So, one of the first things that leaders need to do is understand the important results that they are responsible for. And then understand the actions that they and their team need to take to ensure that they deliver on the results that they're accountable for. That is so incredibly important, because you really only have one chance to set your leadership style with your team.
You need to [share that focus on performance] early on: ‘We're here for a purpose; we're paying you to get results; as a group, we are accountable for this.’ And as leaders, we need to understand the members of my team and what each is responsible for and what their accountability is to help us achieve that goal.”
By focusing on performance, great leaders enable team members to contribute in meaningful ways to the achievement of the team’s overall goal.
Constancy of Purpose
Linked to the performance focus is what Scott calls “constancy of purpose.” Scott graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the Navy where he learned quickly the importance of understanding the mission. When people know when and why, they can more effectively and efficiently accomplish the what. “A leader’s job is to clearly articulate the purpose — what we’re doing and why — and to continuously help people align their work to the achievement of that purpose,” said Scott. He speaks to his role working with General Colin Powell: “The Navy was going through this total quality process at this point and an adviser worked with us on Edward Deming’s philosophies, the first of which is ‘constancy of purpose.’”
Constancy of purpose, according to Deming, is clarity around a company’s mission and goals, and alignment of people’s work to that mission and those goals. Constancy of purpose — the continual drumbeat of a singular mission — allows people throughout the organization to think and act independently, autonomously, and creatively. Across all levels of the organization, it is the leader’s responsibility to clarify and articulate the purpose in terms that are meaningful to employees and to help employees see how their efforts and contributions align to that purpose.
The fourth critical leadership element is accountability. “No excuses,” explained Scott. “Effective leaders don’t make excuses, nor do they accept them.” Scott believes that when leaders step up, people step up. He stressed the value in recognizing employees who are strong and accountable performers.
Scott continued, “One of the first things you learn at the Naval Academy is, ‘No excuse, sir.’ And it's that simple phrase, ‘No excuse, sir’ that means that I'm accountable for what happened. Too often, people want to shirk the accountability and let somebody else take the blame for something. But true leaders are more than willing to take responsibility and be accountable.”
In closing the interview, I asked Scott to share what legacy he hopes he is building at Polaris. He was clear:
“I still have too much work to do to spend much time thinking about my legacy, but whenever my time is up at Polaris, I would like people to say that I left the business on a better trajectory than it was when I got here. The caliber of leaders, the strategy of the company, and the opportunity for growth will be the things that will help Polaris succeed. And I would like people to think that I left those things on a clear trajectory to bigger and better because I want the people that follow me to have much more success than I've had.”
“I spend a significant amount of my time on leadership. Whether it's recruiting leaders, developing leaders, or providing feedback to leaders. It's the most important part of my job. I truly believe that I've been incredibly blessed, certainly around the topic of leadership. If I'm going to spend time talking about something, I feel like I have an obligation to share a little bit of what I've learned along the journey.”
We hope that you enjoyed these insights from Scott Wine, CEO and Chairman of the Board at Polaris Industries. Entelechy is dedicated to helping leaders develop their skills through our customized, innovative, award-winning leadership development programs.