Leadership Lessons from The Story of Tom Rutledge

LeadershipTom Rutledge is a somewhat hidden hero in the story of Charles Lindbergh’s historic non-stop flight of the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.  Tom Rutledge worked at Wright Aeronautical as an engine builder, starting in 1926. The story goes that when Tom first heard that he was assigned the task of building the engine for Charles Lindbergh he asked to be reassigned because he did not want to build an engine for someone he didn’t know.

His request was denied, and though disappointed, he proceeded to build the engine, despite his displeasure. What impressed me with his story is that he did not just quickly rush through and put it together. Instead he took as much care in the work of building the engine, that he would – had he been building it for someone he knew. His integrity and careful attention to detail produced an engine that resulted in one of the most famous airplane journey’s of all time. There is a valuable leadership lesson in this story.

The Great Leadership Lesson from Tom Rutledge

As I pondered this, I thought about how often as successful leaders, managers, or employees we find ourselves with tasks that cause us much displeasure. Do we just trudge through the unpleasant task and do a “good enough” job, or do we put forth the effort and attitude needed to make sure the task is worthy to be called our best work. Tom Rutledge taught we should perform at out best no matter what the task and no matter our oppinion of the importance of the task.

Leadership Takeaway’s From Tom Rutledge

When faced with unpleasant tasks I suggest the following ideas:

  1. If this were the last thing you were to do in this life, would you want to be remembered for doing it well or doing it poorly.
  2. Imagine a person that you highly respect, someone that you wish you were like, and imagine how they would approach the task.
  3. Make a list of all the good reasons why need to do this project well, in other words, focus on the positive.
  4. Think about the benefit that will result from you doing a good job.

So, now that you’ve read this article, how are you going to use this information to bring greater value to your unpleasent tasks and leadership situations? What other strategies do you have for dealing with unpleasant tasks?

Please take a moment and share your ideas in the comments section below, share this with your social media friends, and subscribe to receive A Slice of Leadership notices, and occasional leadership advice, articles, tips and freebies.

About Todd Nielsen

Todd Nielsen helps organizations create miracles of success and profitability through the power of execution. Having served as Vice-President, President, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Executive Officer of organizations, he has learned how to create a culture that "Gets Things Done." He is passionate about leadership, and is a dynamic and inspirational speaker.


  1. Mark Vincent says:

    Perhaps you are getting the definition of leadership confused with personal integrity.

    There is no actual leadership example of any kind, just a commitment to provide the best work outcome regardless of the client.

    Whilst this is a noble sentiment, and a great work ethic to adopt it does not constitute an example of leadership.

    Thank you for the great read.

  2. Nischal Dhungel says:

    Tom Rutledge didn’t bulid the engine for someone he didn’t know. Is that leadership skill?

    • No, that is not a leadership skill. The skill is taking a task that you hate, for one reason or another, and having to character to still put your best talents into the task. That is a leadership quality

  3. Todd – Thanks for the insight on getting past unpleasant tasks. Since I have been young, I was taught to do everything to the best of my ability. My father constantly preached the importance of striving to achieve perfection in everything that we do. Depending on your definition of perfection, often times it is not possible to reach. However, when striving for perfection, excellence is often accomplished.

    What helps me get past unpleasant tasks is knowing that my name is going to be on it.

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