The Whale That Spouts Gets The Harpoon

Here’s an excerpt from LOVING Like a Leader, the 276-page book now available on This is the premise for the book designed to help leaders develop other leaders.

By Peter Jeff

             Climbing over  the curbed landscape barrier, the chauffeured limousine barreled over a well-manicured lawn and came to an abrupt stop in front of the corporate headquarters building – the focal point amid  this lush 168-acre sculptured corporate park setting in Purchase, New York, 30 minutes north of New York City. No one else had the audacity—or the consummate authority—to chew up the grassy carpet the way that specific chauffeured limousine did most weekdays around 10 am.Don Kendall, the chairman of PepsiCo, climbed out of that limousine as if he were climbing down from a mighty stallion. He wore what appeared to be a 10-gallon cowboy hat with a commanding sense of intimidation— even if it was a classic Stetson  premium quality western wear-fashion statement, reflecting his pioneering spirit that he often replenished at his get-away ranch in Pinedale, Wyoming.

          With his ever-present flash and dash, it’s no wonder business publications described Don Kendall in the 1970s as “burly, abrasive, ruthlessly ambitious, and forceful.” Receptionists were instructed to stop whatever they were doing to acknowledge “Mr. Kendall” when he walked into the building with the bombastic flair of Don King, the hair-raising boxing promoter of that era. .I never met Mr. Kendall during my 18 months at PepsiCo but I sure came away with a strong sense of what a Chief Executive Officer of a global company looked like and most importantly what it felt like to be in his (or her) presence. I was 31 then working in my first global company. Mr. Kendall was 61 and light-years away from anything I had ever known in the business world.

          Three weeks later I met another CEO at another global billion dollar company, Bob Pew at Steelcase Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, two and half hours west of Detroit. And he also stunned me. There was the prerequisite fancy office, the specially-commissioned art, the expansive sculpture gardens, the first class corporate dining service and of course the fleet of first class airplanes. But no chauffeur. No limousine. And no 10 gallon cowboy hat.  As a young executive recruit I was introduced to this chairman of the board of a multi-billion global company. He was also 61 and tall like Kendall. Both had been fighter pilots in World War II. But that’s where the comparison ended. There was no pretense. No bombast.  No ego pounding on the chest. Just a friendly smile and a firm handshake when I met this CEO of a very different stripe for the first time. “Bob, the name is Bob,” he said with sincere eye contact.

            “Mr. Pew, good to meet you sir,” I heard myself saying. Impulsively, I blurted back what came instinctively to my frame of reference of what it is like to be in the presence of a billion dollar global company CEO. Non-plussed, the patient Chairman and CEO repeated without any disdain in his voice: “The name is Bob.” Stunned, I heard the words but simply could not process what he was saying and I responded instinctively like Pavlov’s dogs: “Yes, Mr. Pew.” He smiled again. And again in a firm but friendly tone said: “Bob.” It took me a few more seconds to process that this was a CEO from a very different business world— an alien to me. And finally I took a deep breath, realizing that all big time CEOs do not walk on water (or ride on grass). From that day on I always called him Bob just like everyone else did from the janitors to the board members.

“The Whale That Spouts
Gets the Harpoon.”

           And from that day on Bob Pew taught me and everyone else he came in contact with what being a loving leader is all about. He spoke of business as a “social entity and as such it becomes a human experience.” I became even more fascinated by the dichotomy of the two leaders. One proud and boastful and beaming like boxing legend Muhammad Ali telling anyone and everyone that he was “The Greatest.” The other taciturn and humble, telling anyone and everyone to rein in their egotistic pride and pretense with his ever present mantra: “The Whale That Spouts Gets the Harpoon.”

      Then I became even more fascinated by how Bob Pew, a humble loving leader, built a global, industry-leader in worldwide sales during his 25 years as Chairman of Steelcase Inc, the office furniture designer and manufacturer. His self-effacing personality in the wake of such awesome business success fueled my fascination for nearly two decades of observing leaders like Bob Pew and his successors—Frank Merlotti and Jim Hackett—up close, dealing with real issues in real time. Their confidence in giving me a ringside seat into the corporate suite gave me an insight into caring and sharing leaders.

     That insight from that ringside seat so inspired me that I felt compelled to write this book and share what I learned personally and professionally on the impact of love in a business context. I am also indebted to many other leaders who helped me vet these 77 Leadership Mints for their relevance and usefulness in helping busy leaders grow other leaders. In vetting these 77 Leadership Mints they kept me on track in my quest to provide leaders a tool—easy-to-use and quick-to-access—to enhance their feeling for leading. In particular many thanks to:

        George Wolfe, Ph.D, whose insights as a former Chief Learning Officer for a global company helped me more fully connect the 77 Leadership Mints with a three-part process of Reaching In, Reaching Down and Reaching Out.  See pages 192-195 Ken Dutkiewicz for helping me flesh out the concept of leaders who cry for the well-being of others. Bruce McLenithan for walking the talk as a loving leader whose caring and  persona inspired and challenged me. Mike Wykes for his keen editing eye and insight on leadership behaviors. Dave Lathrop for his insight on the importance of storytelling to enhance understanding. Craig Smith for his insights in defining and aligning behavioral talent. And Tim Penning, Ph.D, for his insights on transformational leadership.

Special Thanks to the Author of

In addition, I especially appreciated the insights of Gregg Cochlan for his ideas on reformatting the book (placing Today’s EngageMINT at the beginning of each Leadership Mint) to make it even more reader-friendly and message-oriented.  After all, Mr. Cochlan knows a thing or two about reader-friendly and message oriented book writing. He is the author of Love Leadership
(ISBN 0-974813-6-3), published by New Voices Press in 2008. His insight on love in a business context (as quoted on page 203) to drive out fear and enhance results helped me keep the theme of this book on track.

             I am also indebted to other authors such as Stephen R. Covey who inspired me with his mantra of “to live, to love, to learn and to leave of legacy” in his book First Things First. And I am indebted to authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner whose research on developing leaders featured in their seminal book The Leadership Challenge  inspired both of my books in this Leadership Mints SeriesTHINKING Like a Leader, Featuring 101 Leadership Mints and this second book in the series: LOVING Like a Leader, Featuring 77 More Leadership Mints. Many other authors— in addition to the more than 77 authors referenced in this book —have influenced my thinking on the impact of love in a business context.

       Without the insights of authors like Margery Williams and Rollo May, I may never have never committed myself to the four years I invested in writing and researching this book.  I knew I had to confront my own feelings to write a book about feelings. And most of us (dare I be sexist and say most of us guys?) don’t especially welcome talking about our feelings or baring our souls or getting all THAT real. But then I remembered what Margery Williams wrote in The Velveteen Rabbit about getting real.

 “Getting real… doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit. “You become. It takes a long time. “That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept.”

          Loving leaders don’t break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept. I thank authors like Margery Williams and Rollo May for helping me develop the courage to confront my own fears and smooth out my own sharp edges in the process of writing this book. It takes courage to be vulnerable, to be humble, to bite your tongue when you feel like biting off someone’s ear a la Mike Tyson. As author Rollo May observed in his book The Courage to Create:   “It is easier in our society to be naked physically than psychologically or spiritually, easier to share our bodies than to share our fantasies, hopes, fears and aspirations, which are felt to be more personal.”

Cashing In
On Two Thin Dimes

In mustering the courage to express my feelings, I have my parents—Frank and Marie Jeff— to thank. Their consistent example on relationship building through love and respect for each other must have planted the seed of this book of, for, and about loving leaders deep in my soul as a kid. My parents demonstrated how a small gesture can make a big impact in sustaining a loving partnership. As a youngster, I remember my dad included two dimes in every greeting card he gave my mom on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, their anniversary, her birthday etc.

And every time I saw the anticipation in my mom’s eyes as she cupped her left hand to catch the expected two dimes after opening the envelope. The dimes would cascade into the palm of her hand and her face would always light up in sheer delight.  In gripping those dimes, she also reaffirmed her grasped on her marriage’s long running experience of commitment, trust, integrity and respect that cemented their near 50-year marriage before my dad passed away. Those dimes rekindled a smoldering memory of caring and sharing, respect and understanding that to my young eyes flared the proverbial fire in their love for each other.

Anyway, this dimes-throughout-time love story began two years before my parents married. My dad was away on business serving in the United States Navy during World War II. He mailed my mom-to-be a Valentine’s Day card. His testament of love for her arrived—postage due: you guessed it, 20 cents. The image of those two thin dimes over the decades seemed to carve a deeper understanding in me of what responsible caring and sharing is all about. And no doubt the symbolism reflected in those two dimes in some way played a role in my penchant to study trust-building relationships throughout most of my leadership development career. My only hope is that I have walked the talk in my own marriage to Debbie over more than 40 years. I know without her love and support and the support of our two daughters and our six grandchildren I could not have devoted the near 1,500 days it took to research and write this book. 

LOVING Like a Leader

Designed as a handy reference tool on leadership principles and as an on-going, convenient professional development conversation starter for a leader and his or her staff,  LOVING Like a Leader is  comprised of 77 short stories called Leadership Mints. Sweetened with insights from 77-plus other books on leadership, these Leadership Mints define and leverage emotional intelligence in general and love in a business context in particular for greater productivity,   profitability and sustainability. Like a candy mint, these Leadership Mints are quickly accessed, easily digested and immediately reinvigorating.


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