Your character is the clue

Dec. 21, 2004
. . to the kind of chief executive youre likely to be.

Satirist, journalist, and author Ambrose Bierces definition of admiration is: "Our polite recognition of another persons resemblance to ourselves." That may be why I admire the findings of Patricia Pitcher, professor of leadership at cole des Haute tudes Commerciales in Montreal. Her book, The Drama of Leadership (1997, John Wiley & Sons), based on a personally conducted, eight-year study, supports impressions I have developed through trial and error. She explodes a number of the popular myths about leadership, including the one that leadership and vision can be taught in business schools. Pitcher refutes the common belief that leaders are in short supply. She maintains that the corporate pool abounds with potential leaders whose talents either go unrecognized or are tragically undervalued. What bugs her (and me) is: Why? At a time when vision, innovation, humanity, and passion are so desperately needed, why do so many companies give leadership positions to people who possess few of the requisite qualities -- and distrust anyone who does? Pitcher identifies three types of leaders and their characteristics:

  • Artists -- Unpredictable, funny, imaginative, daring, intuitive, exciting, emotional, visionary, entrepreneurial, inspiring.
  • Craftsmen -- Well-balanced, helpful, honest, sensible, responsible, trustworthy, realistic, steady, reasonable, predictable.
  • Technocrats -- Intense, no-nonsense, detail-oriented, determined, cerebral, uncompromising, stiff, fastidious, difficult, hardheaded. Power struggles among these types are played out in companies everywhere. Whether the story has a happy or an unhappy ending depends upon which type is the CEO. During my work experience, my CEOs were an artist, a craftsman, a technocrat, and finally a Michelangelo-level artist. If I could sculpt my management David, it would resemble my last CEO. You wont find him listed with Jack Welch or Andy Grove on any top-10 list, but he should be -- and he would be if the business media paid more attention to mid-sized manufacturing companies. Hes every bit as good as the CEOs usually listed, perhaps better, because he doesnt have the legions of support people they do. He has two Harvard University degrees, but he will be the first to tell you he learned about business from his father who built a single product into a major corporation. My ideal CEO believes in true empowerment. Most companies talk about it -- few really do it. In this mans company, divisional CEOs run their own show. He gives them the support they need to be as good as they can be. As a result, theyre pretty darned good. My ideal CEO is willing to take risks and accept occasional failure. Its surprising how few failures there are as a result. My ideal CEO takes a long-run rather than a short-run view with regard to the companys development. Lots of CEOs talk it -- few do it. My ideal CEO keeps informed -- not only about the company and its business, but about key political issues, worldwide trends, and the foreign cultures in which the company operates. He is rarely taken by surprise. He respects the past and thinks in the future. My ideal CEO is a strategic planner and thinker who has a vision of the companys future, articulates it clearly, shapes it, and invites buy-in. Many CEOs talk it, but few walk their talk. Patricia Pitcher would describe my ideal CEO as a "feeling, seeing, thinking, acting" management artist. His style deserves to be studied and copied. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Publishing Inc. and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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