I tried to make a difference

I tried to make a difference

The leaderships lessons of Danny Williams — Part 1


Sunday, January 26, 2020

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In his recent biography on his life, titled I tried to make a difference, R Danny Williams shows through example the lessons of how to achieve a life well lived with examples from family, friends, business, charity and even politics.

Some of his lessons on leadership, and its key underlying components including motivation, teamwork and salesmanship are applicable across both public and private sectors and indeed in one's everyday life, and consequently the book should be read by every Jamaican.

One of the things that sets his book apart from similar works is both its extreme readability (short simple sentences are used to explain even complex topics), to which he gives credit to former reporter and author Sandy McIntosh, and the heavy use of direct dialogue from his large group of friends, many of whom are former colleagues and business partners.

This method of telling a story is a very powerful one for the reader, in that, in large part, his story is told through the eyes of his friends and business colleagues and represent their opinions of him.

Williams notes in our interview “All my life I have enjoyed leading people. I believe leadership is an art as much as a science. To lead people, you have to earn their respect. You must make them want to associate with you, and not ask them to do anything you would not do yourself.”

Today we will focus on part of his leadership style and some of his general business lessons, leaving the many other areas covered in his book including, inter alia, his time in politics, fund-raising for Jamaica College and the Tony Thwaites Wing of the University Hospital of the West Indies, the story of the founding of Life of Jamaica through an initial public offering, and his thoughts on Jamaica's financial crisis for another day.

His key message, and what gave him most satisfaction in his career, was the importance of helping people grow. As he put it “I was just trying to make a difference in other people's lives.”

“When you help people to grow, you grow with them, and it is one of the things that hold people together. Not just the management team but all the people you work with, you help them improve themselves through studying and reading widely.”

He adds: “People come up to me all the time to thank me for something I did decades ago. Ninety per cent of the time, or even 99 per cent, I don't remember. I do it because it is the right thing. It is the same with how to make an organisation grow and develop the team.”


“I have been very successful at team building, which I believe in because I don't know everything. For many of my successes, the idea isn't mine, but I never forget to give him or her credit for the idea. People only respect you if you respect them. I am happy to give them full credit for an idea, and if worthwhile, implement it.

“You need to encourage people to work together, and making them grow helps them work together. When you make plans, involve them and have them plan with you and share in the excitement of the plan.”


“You build integrity by leading with integrity, giving people the credit that they deserve, and rewarding people for what they do.”


“Attitude is always first. One needs to have the right attitude and willingness to work together. I have met a lot of people who have all kinds of qualifications and don't achieve what they should. I have also met a lot of people with no qualifications but the right attitude who succeeded. This includes understanding that they don't know everything, and a willingness to listen and be guided.”


“When I was at Life of Jamaica, and before, I had a tremendous team of sales people. When training them on selling, I didn't believe in just giving them a book, but went on the road with them to show them how to do it and observe them.”


“I sold life insurance because I always wanted to help people. When I started out, there were very few savings options, not like today, so it was one of the ways of helping middle class people own their own home, for example. When you believe in your product you can sell it. For me, life insurance was about helping people by securing their future. I sold it with every bit of energy I had.”


“I would sit down and plan everything I needed to be done that week, and then stick to my plan. You get the most out of time when you plan time and determine how you use time.”

As he put it to me, which turned out to be in his appendix Words of Wisdom: Favourite sayings of Danny Williams at the back of the book, “You know you make time for anything you want to do”, which could usefully be combined with another of his sayings: “You have to plan properly so you know where you are going.”

Another one of his favourite sayings, no doubt reflecting his career as a salesman, which also happened to be one of my father's, is that “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.

We leave the last of his sayings, which is also the last sentence in his book, as an appropriate last word. “I owe so much to so many people.”

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