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Leadership qualities
Jun. 22, 2009:
At Harvard Business School, Jamie Dimon discussed key attributes new graduates should consistently
develop if they want to be leaders. The MBA Class of 2009 asked Dimon to speak at their Class Day
exercises.

"I always hesitate to give advice, because it sounds like I did it all
right," Jamie Dimon recently told nearly 900 graduating students. "I
did not."
Dimon was at his alma mater, Harvard Business School, where the
MBA Class of 2009 had invited him to speak at their Class Day
exercises. » View the video
"I learned from making mistakes, which I hope you can avoid,"
continued Dimon, who received his MBA from Harvard Business
School in 1982.
Students had asked Dimon to focus on career management,
leadership and obligations. Highlights follow.
Career management
You're responsible for your own success and happiness. There are
several very important things you've got to focus on.
Learning is lifelong Jamie Dimon addresses newly
minted Harvard Business School
It doesn't end at graduation. It's your responsibility; you have to do graduates. An alumnus (MBA
it consistently, all the time. I spend about 50-60% of my time 1982), Dimon was a Baker
learning. While reading is important, so is talking to other people. Scholar, meaning he graduated
in the top 5% of his class. He
You also learn by observing other people and how they operate in currently serves on the board of
very difficult circumstances. I've learned both what to do and what the Harvard Business School.
not do by watching others.
Building your brand
There is a book on each of you. It's already being written. If I spoke
to your teachers, your friends, your professionals, your parents, I
would know whether you're trusted, how hard you work, whether
you're ethical—you'd be amazed at how much I'd know without even meeting you.
That book is already growing. Write it the way you want it to be written; don't let others write it for
you. When you're caught in situations that are uncomfortable—you can always make the right
decision. It's your responsibility whether you accept to do something or not, and it will be in that
book written on you.
Dealing with failure and mistakes
When you fail, it's OK to get depressed, to cry, to blame others—for
a while. But eventually, you have to get over it and move on. The
greatest people who have ever walked this planet—people like Nelson
Mandela and Abraham Lincoln—constantly had setbacks and failures
in life. It happens all the time in business, too. And some of your success will be based on how well
you deal with failure.
To be a leader, you'd better be a little tough, because you will be
criticized. You have to develop a little bit of a thick skin. When you
get criticism, let it roll off your back.

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Also, bear in mind that a lot will happen in the next 25 years that's
about more than your skills. There's luck involved. So don't get too
exuberant when you do well, and don't get too depressed when you
don't.
To thy own self be true
You have to fight self deception. Human beings are experts at it. I do
it, too. We all need people in our lives who will bring us back to
Earth. Class Day exercises were held
June 3 on the Harvard Business
It's important to try to understand yourself deeply. When I was in School campus.
5th grade, my teacher put a sign on the desk facing me that said,
"Self control." It wasn't until I was about 45 years old that I realized
that anger is a bad thing. Anger always backfires, it hurts people,
you have to apologize all the time—it's better to skip it.
You all know about I.Q. and E.Q. Your I.Q.s are all high enough for
all of you to be very successful, but where people often fall short is
on the E.Q. Emotional intelligence is critical. It's something you
develop over time. A lot of management skills are E.Q., because
management is all about how people function.
In addition to emotional skills and empathy, there are other traits we
have to develop and work at all the time—things like passion, work
ethic, character, integrity. You are the sum of all of these things.
Your I.Q. alone will not get you through the dark days or the tough
times. You need to develop all these things, and develop them
consistently.
Take care of yourself
You're going to get involved in very highly stressful situations. If you
don't take care of yourself emotionally and physically, you will fail.
Exercise is essential, and not just for the body. It clears your mind.
You have to give yourself vacations and family time. And when you
have children, bear in mind that there is no such thing as quality
time without quantity. Make sure you spend time with them all the
time, not in short bursts.
Leadership
It is an honor, a privilege and a very deep responsibility to be a leader, whether of a small group or
a larger company. You have to remind yourself if you make a mistake, you could hurt a lot of
people: customers, communities, shareholders, employees, parents. I worry about this every single
day.
To be a very good leader, you have to demonstrate 11 intertwined attributes:
Discipline
You have to be very disciplined. That means rigorous, detailed
meetings and follow up. You have to do it consistently. It's like
exercising or weeding the garden—you don't get there and stop. You
have to have a strong work ethic. And you have to be always striving
for improvement.
Fortitude
You have to have great fortitude and fierce resolve. Otherwise, you
could be crippled by politics, bureaucracy and people who just don't
want change. You have to push back against it. You have to have the
Each Sunday, Dimon makes a

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ability to act. list of all the issues he's trying


to avoid and tries to deal with
them on Monday.
Make a list and then get it done. Yes, orchestrate it; coordinate it;
don't act in haste. Think things through; otherwise, they will
backfire. But for the most part, people simply don't do what needs to
be done.
Standards
Standards are not set by Harvard Business School or the federal
governments of the world; they are set by you. You have to set high
standards for performance. If you don't, you will fail. Always
compare yourself to the best in your industry at a very detailed level
and analyze why you're different.
You also have to set high standards of integrity. At a lot of companies, you'll hear, "Don't worry
about it, everyone does it that way." No, they don't. And that standard's got to be set across the
board at all levels, from little things to big things.
I've been with kids who lied on T&Es—they shared a cab with a
friend and both put in 100% of the cab bill for $40. That's stealing. If T&Es: business-related travel and
entertainment expenses paid out of
I caught you doing that, I'd fire you. And everyone in the company pocket by employ-ees, who then
knows that. submit claims so they can be
reimbursed by their company.
Face facts
Look at the facts in a cold-blooded, honest way all the time. At
management meetings, emphasize the negatives. What are we not
doing well, how come the competition is doing better? People say I
focus on little things about how we allocate expenses. It is not a little
thing.
At a lot of companies, expense allocation is political, not economic.
That means your numbers aren't honest. At some companies, people
say, "Let's move the profits to the part of the company that has a
higher public valuation." I call that financial misrepresentation. Keep
your eye out for stuff like that.
There's only one truth, so that's what we tell, both internally and externally. Full disclosure to the
board, shareholders, analysts and employees. We tell everybody the same thing—the good, the
bad, the ugly—and then we deal with it. We're never going to do everything exactly right.
Openness
What you want is full sharing of information, then a debate about the What's truly important
right thing to do. The job of a leader is not to make a decision; it's to to Jamie Dimon?

make sure the best decision is made. To do that, you need to get the
right people in the room.
You have to kill bureaucracy, it's a disease. It pushes out good
people, you lose touch with your customers—and it often emanates
from headquarters. Headquarters don't exist except for the fact that
there's a client in front of someone somewhere. Move people in and Family, JPMorgan
out of corporate to make sure they know what it's like to have the humanity, Chase—
my country— somewhere
job on the firing line, and then they have a little more respect for up here. down here.
that job.
I think the best thing I can do
Deal with key issues. Avoid signs of politics. When you have a for my country and for humanity
meeting and afterwards people line up outside your office and say, "I is to build JPMorgan Chase as
didn't want to say this in front of everybody, but…" That's politics. Of best as I can and make it a
healthy, vibrant company.
course, sometimes it's something confidential, but most of the time it
—Jamie Dimon

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should have been said in the room, in front of their partners. If you
can't say it in the room, you don't deserve the job. Say it politely,
say it reasonably, but say it—because we're only trying to do the
right thing for the company or the clients.
Our entire management team reviews the compensation of all the top people. Early on, someone
said, "Don't my people work for me? Don't I know what they contribute to the company?" And I
said, "No, they don't work for you, and how do you know what they contribute to the company
unless you ask your partners?" Now we have open conversations about whether our people are
doing a good job for each other. We don't do it to hurt anyone; we do it for fairness and insight.
Get into the field. Do it all the time, and have a little fun. Take the
ops clerk to dinner, go have drinks with the tellers—you learn more
about your company every time you do something like that.
Cut across hierarchy—it's another disease, and it's generally artificial
to start with. Most units in a company all serve each other, so cut
across the hierarchy.
Always get the right people in the room. If you're designing a
system, have the people who are going to use it there. Give them
authority so that if design doesn't work for them—the tellers, the
clerks—then we won't do it. Not only do you get a better system that
way; the people get fully engaged in building everything the
company does.
Surround yourself with truth tellers. I once heard someone say,
"Every leader needs at least one person around who tells them the
truth." One is not enough. If you are a leader and you have seven or
eight people reporting to you and only one is a truth teller, you have
a problem. Every single one of them should be a truth teller.
Set things up for success
A quick example from my past: When we did the Citicorp–Travelers
deal, we had multiple tri-heads and co-heads reporting to multiple
tri-heads and co-heads. That is a formula for disaster. Organize
things that will actually work, not things that won't.
Loyalty, meritocracy and teamwork
When I was a young CEO, someone said, "We love the company, but you demoted Joe. How can
we be loyal to you when you're not loyal to Joe?" Yes, we demoted Joe. And Joe was a pillar of
society and a wonderful person.
But Joe was no longer doing a good job. If we were 'loyal' to Joe by leaving him in that job, we
would have been hugely disloyal to everybody else and the clients of the company. That, right
there, is the hardest job you are going to face.
Don't embarrass anyone. It's a great mistake to publicly embarrass
people who've worked hard for a company—that's a terrible thing to
do. But if you are loyal to Joe and not the company, you do not have
a meritocracy. If I say I'm going to give the best job to the best
person and you don't see me make changes, I'm not telling you the
truth.
Teamwork is often code for "get along." But teamwork sometimes
means standing alone and having the courage to say something. The
best team player is the one who puts up their hand and says, "I don't
agree, because I don't think what you're doing is in the best interest

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of the client or the company."


Morale
Great mistakes are made in the name of morale. One of my first jobs
was at a company that had a terrible morale problem because the
place was political, bureaucratic, stultifying. So the management
team decided to give every employee $300 of restricted stock to give
them a vested interest in the company.
Did it work? Of course not. If you have legitimate complaints, you
don't want $300; you want me to fix the problems. We can't buy
your loyalty, and we certainly can't buy your morale. Morale comes
from fixing problems, earning respect and winning. Show me a
company that loses all the time, and I'll show you bad morale.
Respect
Treat all people properly and treat everyone the same, whether
they're clerks or CEOs. Treat everyone equally and with respect. And
promote people who are respected. Would you want your child to work for that person? If not, you
really should question why you would allow that promotion to take place.
Get compensation right
To get compensation right, you have to acknowledge that failure is OK. I think there are good
mistakes: you argued for it, you thought it through, you talked to the right people, and you were
wrong. So you have to allow failure.
Performance is hard to judge. When we judge people's performance,
we don't just look at the profit-and-loss statement. Instead we ask,
did you work hard? Did you hire people, did you train people, did you
do the right thing for the client? Did you help other people? Did you
build systems? When we asked you to do something like recruiting,
did you help us? We judge how people perform across the full
spectrum.
The greatest misconception of all is that when a unit doesn't perform,
you shouldn't pay the boss. Sometimes you want to give your best
person the worst job. I've asked people to go do a job that I know is
going to be the hardest turnaround, the meanest job, 24x7, and
they're not going to look good doing it. And I tell them, "I'm going to
pay you the same as the rest of your partners, and I've got your
back. If something goes wrong, we're all going to come help you."
Very often in a company, when there's a problem, people go running
as far and fast as they can in the opposite direction. But we want the good people to step up and
help. Sometimes you need to protect them on compensation so they'll be willing to do that.
Have real humanity
You will have awesome power that affects people's lives. Use it wisely and be just with it.
Have real humility. Humility is a deep acknowledgement that we got
where we are because of things like where we were born or who our
parents were. It wasn't all our own genius. We could just as easily
have been born in a different place, or with a disease that we
couldn't handle.
If you consistently develop these attributes of leadership, you could
end up at a mature company. Some companies are more like
Shakespearean tragedies, where neuroses and politics dominate

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internally.
Mature companies—like Walgreen's, Toyota, Tata, Nokia and many,
many others—are always getting better. They get good people, do
the right thing and focus on the customer. It's not constant drama.
When they change CEOs, the company doesn't blow up five years
later. You want a mature company, not a Shakespearean tragedy.
Obligations
We are very lucky. We should all acknowledge that. Most of the
almost 7 billion people on this planet would gladly trade places with
someone else at random. So those of us here today are very lucky—
and that gives us deep obligations.
Leaders understand that they didn't build this country. We've
inherited it from those who were here before. And that should be a
humbling thing for all leaders.
If you want to be a leader, it can't be about money. And it can't be about you. It's about what you
will eventually leave behind. What would you want on your tombstone? Think about that when you
become a leader.
For mine, I just hope they say, "We miss him, and the world is a better place for him having been
here."

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