The Best is Yet to Come
“I don’t believe patience is a virtue. It’s a nice quality, but I think I am a pretty driven kind of person. I like to see results and things moving along,” admits John (Jack) Zenger (BS ’55), CEO of Zenger Folkman, a strengths-based and data-driven leadership company. At 87 years of age, Zenger has not slowed down, but is just beginning to make plans for the difference he hopes to see in the world, and he’s optimistic about its future. He says, “I don’t believe the world is going to heck in a hand basket and I don’t think it’s collapsing either. What used to seem preposterous and impossible has now become reality. It’s a tremendous, tremendous blessing.”
Zenger moved from Salt Lake City to Provo, Utah at age eleven and had the opportunity to see the city and BYU change over the course of his lifetime to become what he describes as the “highly respected, teaching university” it is today. He explains what it was like as a young boy living in this college town: “The venue for church as a kid was one of the BYU buildings up on campus. My high school was the old BY-High. Then I went through BYU as a psychology major. So the transition wasn’t a big abrupt thing, but BYU was always a part of me.” He eventually moved to California for graduate school and spent 30+ years living there before being “re-potted” in Heber Valley with his wife 25 years ago.
Over the course of his lifetime, technology has advanced far beyond what he ever believed to be possible, but he has embraced it whole-heartedly. “My wife jokes about the fact that I’ve probably owned every version of computer. I’m a great lover and believer of new technology. I’m an experimenter,” Zenger relates. “I smile when I see young people texting each other when they’re sitting right next to each other,” he admits. He is likewise optimistic about societal changes that have happened in his lifetime, stating “I think our willingness to be inclusive of people who are different than we are is a great thing. In general, the world’s a much better, healthier, and happier place than it was generations ago.”
Zenger is confident that the success of any society is based on the competencies of its leaders. Amid thousands of books, articles, and seminars that exist on leadership, Zenger stands out with his data-driven multi-rater feedback that allows leaders of different companies to be rated by their peers, their supervisors, and their employees on a handful of different categories. He then allows these leaders to see how their results stack up against not just the average leader, but the top quartile and decile of leaders in the world. In his mind, extraordinary companies require extraordinary leaders. “Anything that you can measure about the success of the organization is related to how effective the leaders are,” says Zenger.
Although Zenger pushes others to be exceptional, he recognizes that there is no “cookie-cutter” style for leadership. While most would see the leaders around them as extroverted and popular, Zenger argues that “there are absolutely effective leaders who are introverts.” He claims that the most effective leaders aren’t the ones who are good at everything, but rather those that are “really good at a few things.” In himself, as with any leader, he sees a different set of sompetencies. “I think I have learned the value of treating people respectfully. I think one of the key principles of leadership is not just being nice to people, but it’s being very respectful of people,” says Zenger. Put simply, “leadership is just positive influence, and there are many ways to make that happen.”
Although his career keeps Zenger busy, he still says “The thing that gives me the greatest joy in life is to see [my] children grow up and eclipse [me] in terms of their achievements.” His kids sometimes ask him when he will retire, but despite their prodding, Zenger doesn’t see the incentive. He says, “I don’t know that I would get up in the morning with the same kind of excitement, and sense of purpose. I really do believe that if you stay active and involved that your best days are always ahead of you.”