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Boyden Leadership Series: Part 3 — Distinguishing Characteristics of Successful Leaders
Volume 1 Issue 3«| Page 1 of 1 |»
"The first thing you need is a strong ethical orientation in conducting business."
Boyden Washington, DC
"This particular kind of leader has an ability to focus on business fundamentals ...and to look over the fence."
Dr. Dirk Friederich
"The great leaders don’t run from change. They embrace it."
What kind of leader is required in times of crisis? Is one kind of person best suited to lead in the best of times? Is another and entirely different kind of leader more appropriate to lead in the worst of times?
"Different attributes are needed in different times, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need different leaders," says Jules Kieser at Boyden Johannesburg. "My feeling is you want the same person, good times or bad a person who can see things coming."
Dr. Dirk Friederich, Boyden’s Managing Partner in Frankfurt-Bad Homburg, agrees. "It’s not good to change your C-level executives. In any case, the most important quality of leadership is character. With character you get loyalty, transparency, and an ability to inspire and bring together the team." Though he himself holds a doctorate, Friederich doesn’t consider education an issue. "What you’re looking for are entrepreneurial qualities. A leader has to have the ability to look over the fence. You want someone who’s flexible and understands different cultures. In Europe where we have legal limits on hiring and firing, globalization is a growing force. The ability to outsource is a big opportunity for handling crisis."
Tim McNamara, Boyden’s Managing Director for Washington, DC, is clear about priorities. "The first thing you need is a strong ethical orientation in conducting business. Yes, you have to have someone who will really focus on enhancing shareholder value," he emphasizes, "but there must be underlying ethics. There needs to be less greed, more transparency and in some situations perhaps a resetting of the moral compass."
McNamara points to the trend for organizations to hire Chief Ethics and Compliance Officers. But that doesn’t mean McNamara believes we lack role models for leadership in times of crisis. "Look at Lee Iacocca who saved Chrysler, Jack Welch, or Colin Powell. Powell is a great leader, and he is an ethical leader. He is not a man who has ever thought in a ‘me first’ way."
Across the Atlantic, Boyden’s John Ellis in London says, "Some leaders are simply ‘fair weather sailors.’ If companies want to find a person capable of turning things around, they may have to rethink their leadership." He says the important abilities are a functional understanding of the business issues involved and a complete awareness of current operations. That means not just managing from the top, but managing closer at every aspect of the business from the bottom up. "They must be totally clear about what needs to be done," he says. "They must be able to take people on that journey."
Ellis says now the demand is for leaders who have actual experience dealing with massive change, and the people issues associated with it. "Today, there is an enormous amount of talent available for hire. However, there are very
few people who have the full suite of capabilities required to lead a company in crisis."
Boyden’s Bob Concannon in Chicago says that leadership remains the most important factor for companies struggling through a difficult economy. "You need tough leadership, people who can weather the storm. You don’t want someone who can’t handle the risk. People talk about needing hunters in good economies and farmers in bad economies." Concannon believes companies should not be quick to change leadership. "If you talk about leadership today compared to ten years ago compared to eighty years ago, the things that make leaders successful haven’t changed. The big issue is change. That issue never goes away. The great leaders don’t run from change. They embrace it."
Joseph Daniel McCool talks about the next generation of talent and Leadership 2.0.
Joseph Daniel McCool is the author of Deciding Who Leads and Contributing Editor for BusinessWeek.
Boyden: When does the future of leadership start?
McCool: This global economic crisis is really making people question traditional leadership methods and values. The future could arrive sooner than expected.
Boyden: How will things change?
McCool: We are already seeing a new competitive dynamic. Foreign interests are buying into many sectors. Government (out of necessity) is becoming an active partner in private sectors. Companies have to learn to do even more with less. Market forces are ricocheting from geography to geography in search of more efficient production and more specialized skills. Companies are being shocked into new and better business decisions.
Boyden: How are companies changing?
McCool: Companies are beginning to realize they need to think farther ahead. They are beginning to moderate their excesses. They need to move from a binge-purge approach with their workforce to a more sensible and sustainable operation. The "me first" school of management leadership may have worn out its welcome.
Boyden: What about talent?
McCool: There is a lot of new talent available. Some are new and some are sort-of-new. Some of the sort-of-new are actually experienced talent from the financial services sector. Access to sophisticated financial knowledge has not been available in the past, which will be helpful to many companies. What we don’t know is what will happen when Wall Street talent finds out what Main Street pays. There will be a reckoning on this point, for sure.
Boyden: Will the next generation of talent be different?
McCool: The next generation of talent is already changing some rules. For one thing they just aren’t interested in making super-sized salaries at the expense of killing themselves, not having time with their families or harming the planet on which they live. They want to be involved in processes and products that are green, sustainable, and make them feel good when they get home at the end of the day. They want their tech to be "cleantech." Despite their smart phones and MP3 players, they are extremely people-oriented. They prefer to work in companies committed to taking care of their teams.
Boyden: Do they have different capabilities?
McCool: This generation of talent is naturally skilled in leveraging technology and surfing information. They are the ones who really know how to map and navigate the new competitive landscape. Velocity is not an issue for them. Business is not as fast or complex as the games they play on their PlayStations, Xboxes and Wiis. The demand for more speed in corporate decision making is not a problem.
On the other hand they have zero interest in growth for growth’s sake. They’re more into a shared approach to getting things done. This is beginning to feel a lot like Leadership 2.0. They are as interested in leading from the side as in leading from the front.
Boyden: What’s really interesting?
McCool: Many current leaders are talking about rethinking growth, about redefining success, and about redefining what’s required to lead today’s companies. I think there are a lot of global companies that cannot be led by one person alone. The CEO role has become too complex, too global, and too demanding for individuals. Individual executives need to have the courage and honesty to acknowledge they can’t do
Boyden: What are the lessons learned?
McCool: We all learned some bitter lessons from Enron and Tyco. (Enron and Tyco leadership are doing serious jail time.) The new lessons learned come from Wall Street and the financial sector. These are about setting false goals for too-large profits and too-fast growth. Companies must be willing to confront the critical leadership issues standing in the way of future growth and shareholder returns.
Boyden: What’s the bottom line?
McCool: Our present leadership and our future leadership are converging into a shared view of the future. It looks like the dawn of a whole new era of leadership.