Lee Thayer is best known for his acerbic wit, his engaging style, his sense of humor, and for the depth and breadth of his intellectual resources. Accompany those traits with his accomplishments and the work he does in this complex world of ours, and you begin to get an idea of Thayer’s vision for the “thinking, being, and doing” of leadership.
Thayer’s goal is to visualize the ideal, and then to figure out how to get there by starting with the actualities of the present circumstances.
Like some of the rest of us, he wants to leave this world a better place. And he’s doing it – organization by organization. Many say that in his craft he has no peer. His approach is unique (often counter-intuitive) as it is powerful. It is a life-changing experience for those who are fortunate enough to work with him.
Thayer’s work begins with an invitation from an exceptional and exceptionally committed CEO – to partner with that CEO for the purpose of transforming his or her organization to an outstanding level of performance, while learning the kind of leadership required to deserve a great organization. (A high-performance organization is one that does everything it does better than anyone else – and improves upon that every day – giving that organization a sustainable competitive advantage.)
Thayer gets into “the trenches” with those who are going to make it happen, to help them every step of the way. As he says,
It isn’t what you know that creates excellence. Ninety-five percent of it is in the implementation. For that, you need a guide and a mentor – someone who’s been there in all kinds of conditions.
Dr. Thayer’s career as a pioneer and influential innovator in the design and development of high-performance organizations – and in the kind of leadership required of the top executives to achieve that – has spanned more than four decades. It has often been observed that he has rattled more CEO’s cages than anyone else.
Having come from a high-level executive position in industry himself, coupled with his experience as a jazz performer and arranger and his university degrees in the humanities, engineering, and psychology, Dr. Thayer has developed a revolutionary and practical framework for understanding what it takes to lead the way to creating great organizations, expressively in the “how” as much as the “why”. He and his CEO partners often have to invent the pushes and pulls required to achieve the kind of excellence that others can’t figure out how to copy.
Early on in his career, he served as consultant to several of the Fortune 500 and other notable companies, such as IBM, AT&T, Westinghouse, Boeing, Curtiss-Wright, Pratt-Whitney, McDonnell Douglas, Phillips, Shell, General Motors, Sealtest Foods and Hallmark. He has consulted with the U.S. Air Force, the Postal Service, numerous banks and other institutions, universities around the globe, and West Point.
He has consulted behind the now well-known success story at Johnsonville Foods – which Tom Peters referred to as “the most remarkable example of organizational transformation” he had ever seen.
He has taken his extraordinary problem-solving skills to the Scandinavian countries (esp. Finland and Norway), to Australia, to the UK and most European countries, and to Canada, Mexico and China. Today, he limits his work to small to medium-sized organizations where, as he says, the impact is more immediate and measurable.
His other “career,” as a distinguished university professor in major universities both here and abroad (e.g., the Harvard Graduate School of Business, The University of Amsterdam, Queensland University of Technology in Australia, Universidad Complutense in Mexico, etc.) was an ongoing research project he “put up with” for thirty-five years, before “retiring” in 1991 to devote full time to his passion which, as he has described it in interviews, is
…to help committed CEO’s and other top executives transform themselves into leaders and their organizations into healthier, more vigorous and more adaptive high-performance organizations.
Doing so, many have observed, has brought life back into those organizations, and has lifted the quality of life of its employees, both at work and at home.