Pig-Inspired Leadership – Truths in Letters from John Graham


(For those readers not familiar with Cincinnati, it is known locally as “porkopolis” in deference to the time when the city was a major pork processing center in America.   The opportunity to connect pork and leadership was just too much for me to pass up.)

For all the fuss about people today who get excited about the newest leadership book containing fresh insights for the information age.  Poppycock!   There isn’t much new to write about leadership that hasn’t been written before.

Here is a case in point.  George Horace Lorimer published an interesting book in 1902, called Letters from A Self-Made Merchant To His Son.   It contained a series of letters from Mr. John Graham, at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, to his son, Pierrepont, while at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   The letters were seemingly an attempt to convey his worldly wisdom to his son.  (I did something similar, writing two self-published books to my two sons on the accession of their graduation from high school – an effort I strongly recommend to others looking for that special gift.  For what it’s worth, I believe I got more from the effort than I think they did).   Anyway, Graham’s letters began when young Pierrepont had just been settled by his mother as a member, in good and regular standing, of the freshman class.  Mr. Graham was Head of the House of Graham & Company, Pork-Packers in Chicago.  He was familiarly known on as “Old Gorgon Graham,” but to his son Pierrepont and other intimate friends, he was known as “Piggy.”

Historical footnote aside, below are some quotes from that book.  Tell me the truth, if you didn’t know their genesis, would you guess they were written 110 years ago?  Now the grammar may be slightly out of date, but listen to see if you agree with the wisdom.

On Decisiveness

“The man who can make up his mind quick, makes up other people’s minds for them. Decision is a sharp knife that cuts clear and straight and lays bare the fat and the lean; indecision is a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges behind it.”

On Rules

“Some men think that rules should be made of cast iron; I believe they should be made of rubber, so they can be stretched to fit any particular case and then spring back into shape again. The really important part of a rule is the exception to it.

On There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

“Now I know you’ll say that I don’t understand how it is; that you’ve got to do as the other fellows do; and that things have changed since I was a boy. There’s nothing in it. Adam invented all the different ways in which a young man can make a fool of himself, and the college yell at the end of them is just a frill that doesn’t change essentials.”

On Education

“I’m anxious that you should be a good scholar, but I’m more anxious that you should be a good clean man. And if you graduate with a sound conscience, I shan’t care so much if there are a few holes in your Latin. There are two parts of a college education—the part that you get in the schoolroom from the professors and the part that you get outside of it from the boys. That’s the really important part. . . for the first can only make you a scholar, while the second can make you a man.”

On Earning Your Success

“I can’t hand out any ready-made success to you. It would do you no good, and it would do the house harm. There is plenty of room at the top here, but there is no elevator in the building. Starting, as you do, with a good education, you should be able to climb quicker than the fellow who hasn’t got it; and, of course, there is just one place from which a man can start for that position. . . [and]—that place is the bottom. And the bottom in the office end of this business is a seat at the mailing-desk, with eight dollars every Saturday night.”

On Humility

“You can’t do the biggest things in this world unless you handle men; and you can’t handle men if you’re not in sympathy with them; and sympathy begins in humility.”

On Truthfulness

“About the only way I know to kill a lie is to live the truth. When your credit is doubted, don’t bother to deny the rumors, but discount your bulls.”

On Dedication

“The real reason why the name of the boss doesn’t appear on a time-card is not because he’s a bigger man that anyone else, but because they shouldn’t be anyone around to take his time when he gets down and when he leaves.”

On Anger

“One of the first things a boss must lose is his temper—and it must stay lost. Noise isn’t authority and there’s no sense in ripping and roaring and cussing around the office when things don’t please you. For when a fellows’ given to that, his men secretly won’t care whether he’s pleased or not. The world is full of fellows who could take the energy which they put into useless cussing of their men and double their business with it.”

Read the whole book (from the link at the top). It is filled with amazing insight and feeling. Well worth your time.

Here are some other timeless works (for you history-minded leadership thinkers).

The Law of Success, by Napoleon Hill, published in 1928, ISBN 978956291219

Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, published in 1937, ISBN 9781585424337

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, published in 1936, ISBN 9780671027032

Rectorial Address Delivered to the Students of the University of St. Andrews, by Andrew Carnegie, published in 1905, ISBN 9781245379311

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