02/18/2013 08:46 am ET Updated Apr 20, 2013

Tales of Leadership

While I am out of the country for a few days, I thought to leave you this note about a couple of interesting books my colleague Hank Cox has written recently for two of our country's more inspired leaders -- one in business and the other in the U.S. Army.

American Drive: How Manufacturing Will Save Our Country, by Richard E. Dauch, with Hank H. Cox, published by St. Martin's Press, is a first person account by one of the most dynamic executives in the auto industry. I have had the pleasure of knowing Dick Dauch for many years. He served as President of the Manufacturing Institute and later as Chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers. He is an inspired advocate of manufacturing.

Dauch was the youngest plant manager in the history of Chevrolet, built the first Volkswagen plant in the United States, and then played a key role helping Lee Iacocca save Chrysler back in the 1980s. He built the first minivans which have proven to be one of the greatest successes of Detroit. But his primary claim to fame is American Axle & Manufacturing, a modern, world-class maker of axles and drivetrains based in Detroit, that he built from five old inner city rust-bucket plants that General Motors did not know what to do with. Reading how Dauch and his team transformed those old facilities, retrained the workers and mowed down the drug dens and prostitution houses around them, is a true adventure story. Reading how Dauch survived an 87-day strike by the UAW followed by the auto industry crash of 2009 is an even more riveting tale.

The other book, From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Changes in Military Communications, is by Lt. Gen. Clarence E. ("Mac") McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret), who led the Signal Corps into the digital revolution. When McKnight first went to war in Korea as a freshly minted second lieutenant, he actually had carrier pigeons as a backup system in case the radios broke down and the wires were cut. He served several tours in Europe, India, South America and, of course, Vietnam. He was in charge of one of the very first computers our military had in White Sands, New Mexico, a huge contraption that took up an entire room.

McKnight offers an array of insightful anecdotes of his dealings with senior brass, foreign dignitaries and politicians over a long career as he rose through the ranks, and ended up as point man for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the monumental reorganization of the military during the 1980s. He is today an outspoken advocate of educational reform, which he deems of greater importance to the country than the budget, cyber warfare or just about anything else.

These are two fascinating life stories by two visionaries, and I found them especially interesting in terms of their unique approaches to leadership. I highly recommend them for anyone interested in the dynamics of organizational leadership, either in the private or the public sector.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements.