Like a Rainbow

In this episode, Sam Shriver, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at The Center for Leadership Studies, and Jim Duncan discuss why leadership is not confined by a role or title. In essence, anyone can be a leader.

Episode Transcript


Welcome to The Center for Leadership Studies podcast, an exploration of contemporary leadership issues with experts from a variety of fields and leadership backgrounds. In this episode, Sam Shriver, Chief of Sales and Marketing Officer at The Center for Leadership Studies, and Jim Duncan discuss why leadership is not confined by a role or title. In essence, anyone can be a leader.

Sam Shriver

I heard a rumor from a highly reliable source that when you were hiring people at Comdisco, you really used to put them through the wringer. Any truth to that?

Jim Duncan

I wouldn’t say we put them through the wringer, and we put them through a process. And I think leaders look at things as a process. The process depends on what sales experience they have. I was always interested in a person’s background. What has brought them to the point where they were sitting in front of me? How did they get through school? Did they work themselves through school? Were they the son of a fireman or a shoemaker? Those types of things. And we always looked at the whole person. How involved are they in their church or their community? We just didn’t want a person who fits the description of a salesperson in a business role. We wanted to look at the whole person, and that can’t be accomplished in one, two, four, or five interviews.

We had a farm system. We had people who were working for other corporations, and they were potential salespeople at Comdisco, given that they would get the experience at the company that they were at. So they knew that our overall objective was to look at the whole person. So ringer is not the right word. I think it was a very comprehensive look at a person because when they joined our company, we wanted it to be their last stop. And you invest a lot of money in training and bringing somebody on board, and if you both make a mistake on both sides, it’s very costly. It’s costly to the individual, and it’s costly to the company. So that was very important. And we did look for people who could be leaders.

You have so many situations where you’re reporting to someone, but that doesn’t mean you’re not the leader in a given task. And everybody has a boss. So we wanted to make sure that people given their own personality traits in a given situation would step up as leaders.

Sam Shriver

So when you were hiring people, regardless of where they were coming into the organization, you were looking for leaders; you were hiring leadership qualities.

Jim Duncan

Leadership is like a rainbow. I mean, if you look at things on the surface, you would say that the person in authority is the leader, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes the person in authority is just a cheerleader, although that can be a trait of a leader. You find yourself working through problems with clients and problems internally within your team, and we expect everybody to take on or did expect everybody to take on a leadership role when the circumstances called for it. For instance, you could have, let’s call it, a team of people working on an account, and you could have the junior salesperson who’s going to come up and say, hey, guys, time out a second. Let’s look at it this way instead of the traditional way.

That’s why you have you build that team so that you get different viewpoints. A leader listens. A leader doesn’t cut everybody off and say, no, this is my way or the highway. Certainly, there are circumstances that call for that, but I think in day-to-day activities, anybody can be a leader. Anybody.


After receiving a business degree from Marist College, Jim Duncan honorably served in the New York State Army National Guard for five years. With his eye always on solving problems, Jim worked to find a place in the emerging high-tech industry. In his career as a senior executive in the high-tech equipment leasing and disaster recovery industries, Jim helped grow Comdisco Incorporated from a $60 million organization to over $4 billion.

He spent 30 successful years there, building meaningful relationships with and solving challenging problems for some of America’s most legendary corporations. In October of 1987, Fortune magazine named Jim as one of America’s top salespeople. Jim is a co-founder of a grassroots organization, the Coalition for American Principles.

Thank you for listening to The Center for Leadership Studies podcast. Through its innovative leadership development programs, The Center for Leadership Studies has helped millions of individuals across the globe become more effective leaders and has helped thousands of organizations build more productive and engaged workforces. For additional information on our services and products, please visit or call 800.330.2840. At The Center for Leadership Studies, we build leaders.