Tough Minds, Soft Hearts

What is the foundation of your value structure? Fred Smith draws on a speech given in 1960 to share an observation on success.

By Fred Smith

Recently, I was asked to do some studying on what are the keys to executive success. I genuinely believe that the men with whom I enjoy working and are most respected have tough minds and soft hearts. A great deal of popular literature would suggest that true success means tough mind and tough heart. That is not so. Leaders like that can't get people to work for them. Then there are those who suggest that what works if a soft mind and a soft heart. But I wouldn't put $2 on that kind of executive. The valuable executive has the tough mind to accept truth and the soft heart to bring benefits to people.

Let me ask you…do you have a tough mind? I can give you a test which might be helpful. Can you accept truth from any source? Can you accept it from your spouse? There is no tougher test, is there? Can you accept it from your children, or do you have to say, "children are to be seen, and not heard?" Many times my children cut me down by their incisive questions which make me face the truth. Again, can you accept truth from your subordinates? Now it's much easier to accept it from our superiors. There seems to be a law in life which encourages us to accept truth from our superiors. I'm not sure what the name of the law is, but I have a feeling that it might be called, "survival." Until we can accept truth from any source, we do not have a genuine and thoroughly tough mind. Wherever we cannot accept truth we have a soft spot in our mind.

 Now the tough mind is like the doctor's diagnosis. When I go to a doctor I don't want him to diagnose on the basis of our friendship; I want him to look at me like a patient. If I have cancer, I don't him to tell me I have a cold. Then after the diagnosis, the personal response that I receive is given in friendship. The same thing works in executive life. We use the toughness of our mind to diagnose the problem and get to the truth. Then the softness of our heart deals with the people involved. This is not Polyanna softness, but the human quality of being a great leader.

 In the evaluation of people and facts, we should use the same objectivity as we do in counting money. For example, if two friends came up and asked me to count their money and I found that both had $4.10 I wouldn't tell one that he had $8.20 because it would make him feel better, and tell the other he only had $2.05 because I was somewhat envious of him. This would be considered insanity. Yet, don't we evaluate people many times in this same way? Those we particularly like, we increase their evaluation and cut down on those with whom we are competitive.

 I can almost hear some of you saying that this sounds way too objective and cold in dealing with people. However, I would ask you to do some theological thinking. Certainly in management we shouldn't be hesitant in thinking in the spiritual realm since it is the highest form of thought. Actually, wasn't Christ tough minded and soft hearted? More so than anyone else we have ever known. For example, He said to me, "Fred, you are sinner, hopelessly lost." Could He be any tougher than that? I know preachers who would not go that far. They would say, "Fred, you have mistakes, but you're a pretty nice fellow and generally you are included toward being good." Christ did not say this. He said that I was a lost sinner. But then He said, "Fred, because I love you so much I will die for you." Here we see His tough mind diagnosing my lost condition and His soft heart dying that I might be saved. This is exactly the same quality I find in top flight executives: a tough mind and a soft heart.