Wednesday, 4 November 2009

What makes a great leader?

I’ve been mulling over the findings from my analysis of Top American CEOs. Statistics are always interesting; learning from facts rather than prejudices. But of course statistics can be highlighted in whatever way the author wants. I know someone who was looking at the exact same data from the point of view of college drop-outs rather than post-graduate qualifications which was where I started. The way you twist and turn data can change the way you see things.

But one of the numbers that has stuck in my mind since looking at the data is the length of service that these people have with their organisations. About 80% have been with their companies longer than 10 years. The Japanese famously reward employees through length of service rather than merit, which seems very strange to western ways. Yet clearly there is something to be said for learning a business inside out.

The one thing it is difficult to see from statistics is the personalities of these people. Perhaps what they have in common is their determination to succeed, whether or not they stayed on at university and regardless of where they did their MBA.

Jim Collins is inspirational about leadership in his book
Good to Great which I am rereading at the moment. He talks of Level 5 leaders who are humble, self-effacing and steely in their determination that their organisations succeed. He describes the way they don’t take personal credit for successes, but attribute the good stuff to the efforts of their team. He also describes the way they are always prepared to take the blame for problems.

If Collins were doing his research today I wonder how many of these Top American leaders would qualify as Level 5 Leaders …

The other common characteristic amongst the 100 top CEOs is that they are all men - without exception, 100%. It is perhaps the starkest statistic of all yet I was so immersed in business schools and length of service that I missed it. Oddly enough, all Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leaders were men too. What does that say about women in business today?

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