[MMM] Why Great Leadership is Really Common Sense: What I learned from Leonard Lee, Founder of Lee Valley Tools

July 11, 2016 | The “Godspeed” Edition


Good Monday morning,


Last week, I lost a person that was extremely influential in my life: Leonard Lee, Founder of Lee Valley Tools.


When I was starting my company, I thought of business people that I admired and respected, and I reached out to grab coffee with them to pick their brains on their “secret sauce”. One of those people was Leonard.


I called his office expecting to get a support person answering his phone – nope. Leonard answered his own phone. I introduced myself, told him how much I admired his company and the culture he built, and I inquired if he would be open to meet for coffee. He said he wasn’t really a coffee drinker, but had to eat lunch every day; and would I like to join him?


That is classic Lee – humble, direct, to the point, and more than willing to share under the right circumstances.


So began a long mentoring relationship with Leonard.


Leonard was a 17 year public servant who was frustrated with his work situation. He loved tools but recognized that many were of poor quality or design. He decided to deal with both of those issues and created a company, literally, out of his barn.


31 years later, Lee Valley Tools is the leader in its category. Leonard and his team have built a business on very simple principles:


-Great products
-Good value
-Quality people
-Do what’s right for the customer


You may say, “Ah, but Alan, that is so obvious!” However, the real secret to his success is his ability to empower his employees. For instance, his customer manual is one-pager, with one line on it: “Do what you would do for a friend.


Leonard shared, “We know when a friend is trying to take advantage of a situation, and your friend needs a break.”


He was no champion of business books or buzz words. Growing up on a farm he knew the principles for success were common sense. His employees are able to make decisions which are better for the customer and certainly better for the people who worked for him. You can listen to an interview about Leonard and his business advice here.


I’m very thankful for the time he invested in his life with me. When you see the demands in his life, and his health situation (especially towards the end of his life) you realize how important it is to invest your life wisely.


What I most appreciated about Leonard was not his intelligence or practical wisdom, it was that he treated me not like a person he was mentoring, but like a friend.


He lived his words.


Godspeed Leonard.


Along the road with you!




P.S. We take the human approach when it comes to leadership development. Organizations such as The Canadian Red Cross, Toyota & The Auditor General work with our coaching team to help with leadership support programs. Contact Lee Grant, VP Corporate, at 1-877-256-2569 x 400 or lee.grant@careerjoy.com for details.


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