Sam Walton — Leadership Style & Business Tips
Sam Walton is the founder of Walmart, the international discounting retail giant. He is a model business leader who has changed the way big business is done. Sam Walton, through his genuine leadership style, has built Walmart from a single store to one of the largest corporations in America.
Sam Walton is often remembered for his folksy demeanor and people-first attitude.
Sam Walton may have once been the world’s richest person, but he was always a man of the people. He was a man whose leadership saw Walmart from a retail store to the biggest company in the world.
Even as Sam Walton became more successful, he continued to avoid luxury and unnecessary spending.
From a humble beginning, facing business challenges, learning from everyone and from failures, Sam Walton created a company that became the world’s largest retailer. With just a simple idea to help others save money so they could live better, he created WalMart, the #1 retailer in the world.
Sam Walton was not just another businessman. He was a true visionary who created a tremendous history.
Other big retailers didn’t scare Sam Walton; he recognized that competition only made Walmart stronger. His business philosophy raises the question: Why avoid competition when you can thrive on it instead? Indeed, observing the competition is what enabled Sam Walton to come up with innovative sales strategies.
Here’s a look at the leadership style and some business tips from Sam Walton.
If you’re interested in business and leadership, then you’re about to discover below many helpful lessons and tips to guide your own journey. Sam Walton’s leadership will be inspirational to anybody who wants to succeed in business. I picked up a few incredible leadership lessons from his life story and I want to share them with you today.
Rule #1 : Never Be Satisfied
Building a flourishing business is hard. The customers are more restless and demanding than ever. They have high expectations, but you need to figure out ways to exceed them. Meeting expectations is not good enough. It doesn’t matter what you do, you need to be able to do better and improve every single day.
The hallmark of great leadership requires you to think ahead and innovatively to do things ahead of their time.
It means you pleasantly surprise the customers and make them into loyal cheerleaders for your business. Sam Walton was always looking for what was new in the retail industry. He quickly adapted to multiple trends that were rising in America.
If you exceed customer’s expectations, they’ll come back over and over.
Give them what they want — and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes, and don’t make excuses — apologize. Stand behind everything you do. The two most important words Sam ever wrote were on that first Walmart sign: “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” They’re still up there, and they have made all the difference.
One of the great hallmarks of a leader is the way they create an impact on their surroundings.
Sam Walton was obsessed with improving things. He urged everyone at Walmart to adopt the same strategy and leave things better everyday. High expectations drive people to raise their standards. As a leader, you don’t have to be right all the time. But you need to embrace what is right for everyone all the time. Leaders understand when they make a mistake, they need to fix it and move on. That’s the only way you grow and improve.
Walmart was a learning organization and Sam always promoted learning and leadership at all levels of the organization.
He always shifted people across different departments to facilitate cross functional training. Thought Walmart’s primary strategic style was Operational Efficiency, and the focus was to provide low cost, reliable, easy to use products to its customers, it also adopted good features of other strategic styles and rotated people into different jobs to acquire fresh perspectives and value innovation.
Sam Walton had high standards for himself and for those who worked with him.
According to Sam, “high expectations are everything”. He didn’t cut corners or go for the quick fix. He recognized money wasn’t the only driver, he set high goals and encouraged competition amongst his staff and kept score. He liked to keep everybody guessing and up for the challenge, creating excitement and passion.
Rule #2 : Burn Your Curiosity
Walmart stores have dominated the retail industry for years but did you know who made Sam Walton interested in such business? His barber. The first rules he ever learned about retail work came from his barber and his brothers who had later grown their variety store into a sixty-store chain.
Sam Walton was a notorious experimenter. He would see all those ideas that others in retail and business had and practiced and he would want to try all the best ones.
Sam Walton started experimenting in the Ben Franklin stores, he learnt what does and does not work, and began to develop outstanding sales records. As a result, he was offered more and more opportunity with Ben Franklin, always honing his skills and applying them later to his own stores, Walmart.
No matter what his competitors did, Sam always stayed true to his vision until his death.
With that vision, he offered an assurance to American consumers that if they shop at Walmart, they will save money. By the way, he was always trying creative new ways of promoting specific products to increase their sales, including hanging items from the ceiling or putting them in a boat. And he encouraged his store managers to get creative too.
🔈 Sam Walton has said
Back when Walmart started, retailers made decisions at the top and pushed them down to stores. Sam Walton turned that model upside-down.
Everyone has a voice, and they can be helpful in making a company better. In Walmart, this is particularly true with those who work the front lines because they are the ones talking to the customer, and hearing what they have to say is encouraged.
Sam Walton promoted a culture that encouraged news being shared.
With that, he encouraged accountability and responsibility, and was able to have information passed up and down the corporate structure. Tactics could be altered at speed to beat the competition and achieve success. The folks on the front line — the ones who actually talk to customers — are the only ones who really know what’s going on out there. You’d better find out what they know.
Rule #3 : Raise Your Praise
Sam Walton took extremely good care of his employees and he gave very employee a chance to become successful with him by allowing them to purchase stock options of Walmart at a discount. He treated them as associates of the business and wanted them to enjoy part of Walmart’s success.
Effective leaders foster open communication by treating employees as co-owners of the business and sharing operational data regularly.
They empower employees by helping them understand how their contribution makes a difference, discussing opportunities and challenges, and encouraging them to contribute to solutions. Sharing information and responsibility is a key to any partnership. It makes people feel responsible and involved.
Obviously, Sam Walton could not build Walmart alone.
He did it with the cooperation of dozens of important executives, thousands of managers and millions of employees. Every Saturday at 7:30AM in Walmart’s headquarters, there’s a big meeting in an auditorium. Hundreds of Walmart executives, managers and employees gather to share what’s working in stores around the country. It’s also used as a time to recognize people for their good work or good ideas.
Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.
They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune. Sam Walton believed in most people until they proved him wrong. He didn’t care about a person’s history. If they showed the willingness to work then he would give them every opportunity he could. Many of the original Walmart managers had little education. But they were willing to work.
True leaders have faith in others. Sam was a people encourager.
He believed in people he entrusted as his associates and valued their contribution. In his own words: “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” He exemplified the adage that no work is too big or too small. His associates saw him doing that and they took pride in their job. What an incredible leadership lesson!
Rule #4 : Go Back To Basics
Sam Walton had simple values that guided him through his life and business. He didn’t follow the latest management fad, nor did he believe in any of the get-rich-quick ideas. He was solidly living his life by the values that he grew up with.
As a leader building a team or an organization, you need to get away from all the ‘noise’ about the latest management framework, or the next idea about how leadership should be done.
The principles that existed for thousands of years still exist today and all you have to do is follow them, and people will follow you. There is nothing new under the sun and you shouldn’t be swayed by different ways and ideas; but stick to your values and you will be successful.
You have to believe in your business more than anybody else. Sam Walton cites this as the reason he was able to overcome all of his personal shortcomings.
Sam Walton didn’t start off his variety stores with an ambition to become rich; he simply had a passion for his craft and at each point in time, he only wanted to do it better and better. If you follow the money, you’ll be running from one business opportunity to another without any focus. But Sam Walton had one focus: retail and so should you. When you follow your passion, you’ll be successful in whatever craft you do, and you will become a leader in that field that you commit yourself to.
🔈 Sam Walton has said
Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anything else.
If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do the best you can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you — like a fever. Sam Walton was a bit of an eccentric. At least that’s how many people in the highbrow world saw him. He was really a hardworking small town person. He believed in people and loved life.
Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners.
The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them. Information is power, and the gain you get from empowering your associates more than offsets the risk of informing your competitors. Walmart, even today (!), is often seen as a company built by hillbillies and rednecks. Sam Walton always used that to his advantage. He would let the competition laugh while he continued to work.
Rule #5 : Celebrate Success
Passionate managers demonstrate the energy and drive needed to rally their teams around a shared vision. They engage their employees with the same messages over and over, escalate their sense of urgency, and get their vision implemented quickly.
Sam Walton recognized if he was to fulfill his dream then he had to work incredibly hard, take risks and never quit.
He mortgaged his home and borrowed to open his first Walmart store. He experienced challenges along the way and failed, but knew with persistence, good people and sticking to a clear vision, obstacles would be overcome. He found humor in his failures as he expected them as part of the journey, and did not let them deter him from his goal.
Discover some laughter in your disappointments. Try not to get too serious. Look, business can be fun on a bun!
When all else comes short, put on a silly outfit and sing a song. At that point, make every other person sing with you. Try not to do the hula on Wall Street. It’s already been completed. Concoct your own trick. The entirety of this is increasingly significant, and progressively fun, more than you think, and it truly tricks your rivals.
🔈 Sam Walton has said
Have fun and always show enthusiasm. When all else fails put on a costume and sing a silly song.
After five years of hard work in Arkansas, Sam Walton eventually managed to outperform his competitors and build the largest and most profitable variety store in the whole region. Unfortunately, he lost everything over a contract mistake. But because of his positive mindset, he blamed nobody but himself for that mistake and vowed to learn from that mistake and spend double the time reading any future lease.
Sam Walton’s rise to success was not devoid of obstacles. In fact, the merchant had his share of outright failures.
In the business game, obstacles — even outright failures — are a necessary evil, and Walton knew he could not be deterred by them. For leaders, failure is a given. You must never allow setbacks to deter them. Obstacles are opportunities. As leaders, we have all experienced letdowns. How we respond to them, especially as leaders, tells a lot about our character and resilience.
Sam Walton was able to grow his small town variety store into a global retail empire. He made this happen by learning how to put the customer’s needs first, even if it meant sending them to a different store. He also knew that instead of being afraid of competition, a successful business uses it to help their business grow.
Sam Walton was known to start work at 4:30 am and had high expectations of others.
He was not afraid to alter his tactics, take risks and change his staff if they weren’t delivering on their numbers. He had a clarity of mind and purpose and a tremendous ability to execute his dream. He had conviction and incredible self-belief.
Remember that company culture isn’t built in a boardroom.
Take a page from Sam Walton’s yellow legal pad, and you won’t go wrong. Sam Walton hungered for new ideas, and — more importantly — he knew where to look for them. You should follow his example. Greatness needs persistence and perseverance till the point you make it.
Through experience, Sam Walton set his mindset towards success and understood the importance of teamwork.
He realized that publicly exercising his ego wasn’t the right way to build a strong business, so he invested much in attracting the best, most talented, and most loyal people to his team.
As he said, “there’s absolutely no limit to what plain, ordinary, hard working people can accomplish if they’re given the opportunity and encouragement to do their best.”
So there you have it. Leadership principles and business tips learned from Sam Walton’s life story. What inspires you the most about Sam Walton’s leadership style? Do you think that WalMart, post Sam Walton, continues to be driven by the vision he set forth for the company? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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