5 Leadership Lessons from Ross Perot’s EDS

I worked for Ross Perot and his company Electronic Data Systems (EDS) from 1984 to 1992. Ross Perot’s recent passing at age 89 caused me to reflect on this critical part of my professional life.

Ross Perot created a very strong culture at EDS and an important part of any culture are the language and phrases that are used to help guide actions and decisions.

Following are the top five leadership phrases I still use from my time with EDS:

  1. “Always do today’s work today.”

The only way to earn influence and respect is through achieving the right results at the right time.

GM had just acquired EDS when I joined in 1984. I was one of what was seen as an invading wave of “EDSers” from all around the country, coming to take over all of IT from GM. It did not help that so many of the EDS people were untrained and inexperienced (like me).

The fact was we did not deserve the GMers respect until we had earned it. We learned to keep going through mistakes and challenges without letting up, eventually winning them over.

  1. “Reward your employees when they are still sweating from the effort.”

Too often leaders wait for an annual review or bonus to acknowledge extraordinary performance. While EDS leaders did not accept excuses, employees were always rewarded for success quickly, often just as we “crossed the finish line.”

  1. “You can’t talk your way out of something you acted your way into.”

I was an unlikely applicant to EDS in 1984. For a former lighting tech and concert rodie for The Grateful Dead to join EDS, whose culture was a combination of the cultures of IBM, Texas and the Air Force, was a bit of a stretch. But I soon learned that EDS shared some of the same values as the promoter of the tour: they both wanted results and would provide loyalty in exchange for quality work.

  1. “Bad news does not improve with age.”

Even if we messed up (especially if we messed up) we always faced the facts and the client directly, taking accountability to own and then fix the problem, never blaming others. Most people will give you another chance if they know they can trust you, even when the news is not good.

  1. “KYP” or “Know Your People”

Long before anyone was talking about engagement or empowerment, leaders at EDS were expected to have deep relationships with their team members: knowing who they were as people, what their goals were and how to motivate them. Still today too many managers do not invest in this key activity of leadership: building resilient relationships with their team members.

So I give my thanks to Mr. Perot and all the leaders of EDS who worked me so hard and taught me so well.