T. Boone Pickens has never felt comfortable running back in the pack. More importantly, he realized early in his career that merely wanting to be out front is not enough.

One of the reasons that he, as an “upstart” independent oil producer in the early 1980s, took on Big Oil and the influential Business Roundtable was that he determined the sector lacked the strong leadership needed to forge an inevitable industry restructuring. It was through his leadership that Mesa Petroleum grew to be the largest independent oil producer in the country and his current companies operating under the Mesa name remain so profitable. That leadership frequently meant giving young, aggressive employees with yet unproven track records opportunities to take on Herculean tasks.

Probably his most-often quoted thought on leadership, first shared in the 1980s, holds closely to his personal track record: “Be willing to make decisions. That's the most important quality in a good leader. Don't fall victim to what I call the ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome. You must be willing to fire.”

Pickens is particularly fond of Ronald Reagan’s legacy of leadership, as evidenced by the following summary he offered for a book on the former president called, Reagan on Leadership: “President Reagan was one of the finest leaders of this century. Business leaders and entrepreneurs alike can learn from his management style and communication practices. Ronald Reagan always left an audience with the impression he was sincere, approachable, and a regular guy. These qualities are described in Reagan on leadership in a way that is invaluable for today's executive. It should be required reading in business schools across America.”

Pickens has shared his other tenants of leadership in his autobiography and speeches throughout his career.

“There are three kind of managements,” he writes in Boone Pickens: The Luckiest Guy in the World. “Some see changes coming well in advance and may even accelerate the process. Some see changes coming just in time to adjust before it’s too late. Some never see changes coming, so they don’t adjust.

“A management style is an amalgamation of the best of other people you have known and respected, and eventually you develop your own style. … I never consciously manage anybody. I try to lead people.”

The following are other favorite themes of the legendary businessman:

And while Pickens has never been shy to express his opinions, he also has managed to wield a self-deprecating wit effectively, another good leadership quality. In 1999, for example, he disarmed a Texas Monthly magazine writer with the following: “My IQ is the gas price. At $3 I'm a genius. At $1.50 I'm a moron. Don't talk to me too fast; it's at $1.53 today.”