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What Makes a Leader?

Feb. 17, 2011
Good leaders have smarts, drive and integrity -- and they surround themselves with good people.

When it comes to leadership, Linda Henman believes there are some things you just can't teach.

That may seem a bit ironic, considering that Henman makes her living as an executive coach and consultant. But in Henman's 30 years of working with executives, she has come to the conclusion that you're either born with the core characteristics of a leader or you're not.

Henman has identified three characteristics of an effective leader. They are:

  • Cognitive ability -- "You have to have the intellectual horsepower to do what you're doing."
  • A passion for achievement -- "You have to love success. ... And when you love success, you draw other people who also love success."
  • Integrity -- "If you're willing to compromise your integrity, then you don't have any hope in leading other people, because you will model the behavior that others will expect to emulate."
Henman adds that the third characteristic -- integrity -- is about more than just "making sure you don't cook the books."
Executive coach Linda Henman: "If somebody doesn't have these three [characteristics], I don't even take on the assignment.""It is about making sure you don't embarrass your investors, that you don't give your board of directors any reason to be ashamed of you," Henman explains. "But more importantly, it's about modeling the behavior that you expect from everybody, so you're not wasting your time following people around to make sure they did what they were supposed to do.

"You are trustworthy, you hire trustworthy people, and then everybody can concentrate on getting the job done instead of worrying about looking behind a door to see if somebody's hiding there."

Cognitive Ability

According to Henman, the second characteristic on the list -- cognitive ability -- encompasses three traits that are particularly important to manufacturing leaders:

  • The ability to learn quickly -- "If you can't, you can't be innovative, and you can't respond to changes in the market and to volatility in the economy." It's an especially crucial trait in today's global economy. "The speed at which change takes place, it's nuclear," says Mark Goodman, plant manager for Carrier Corp.'s Charlotte Chiller Operations.
  • Critical-thinking skills -- "If you're going to run a manufacturing company, you have to be able to solve problems that nobody has taught you how to solve," Henman explains.
  • Quantitative ability -- "This is the ability to know what to do with the numbers," Henman says. The CFO provides the numbers, but the CEO decides "what to do with the numbers to support the strategy."
If the aforementioned characteristics are "non-negotiables that anybody who wants to run a company has to have," as Henman puts it, how does she stay in business?

Henman, who penned the upcoming book "Landing in the Executive Chair: How to Excel in the Hot Seat," notes that there are some things that respond "favorably to coaching." One of them is communication.

"When I talk to a board of directors, for example, about what they're looking for in a CEO, I talk about the three [characteristics of an effective leader]," Henman says. "And then if somebody is a little bit introverted, or shy, or not particularly good at public speaking, or not a particularly a good listener, I can help that person with those things. Those are behaviors -- they come more naturally to some people than others."

'You're Only as Good as the People Around You'

According to Henman, CEOs have three key responsibilities: making decisions, growing their businesses and developing their people.

The third responsibility on the list is "the one CEOs neglect the most often," she says.

"Too many CEOs become short-sighted," Henman explains. "So they're taking care of business on their own watch, and they're not developing the pipeline for five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road.

" ... The best CEOs I know are the ones who commit themselves to succession plans, that tie rewards and benefits to how well somebody on their leadership team is mentoring and coaching and preparing the next generation, so that continuity is there, and the business does not rely heavily on any one person."

Clearly, developing the leadership pipeline has immediate benefits as well. Lyndon Faulkner, president and CEO of Torrance, Calif.-based Pelican Products Inc., notes, "You're always only as good as the people around you."

"Even people that have got individual recognition for being great, I think the fact that there are great people around them is underscored very often," Faulkner says.

Henman admires John Stroup, president and CEO of St. Louis-based Belden Inc., for the "calculated, smart risks" Stroup has taken since joining Belden in October 2005, including a number of strategic acquisitions that have diversified the company's product lines, extended its geographic reach and positioned it for growth.

She notes that a big key to Stroup's success is that "he surrounded himself with brilliant people."

"He's an excellent strategist, and he surrounds himself with excellent strategists, so they can't help but be strategic," Henman says. "It's just in their DNA."

Stroup asserts that it's been a "labor of love" to "assemble a really fantastic team" since he joined Belden. The key to doing that, Stroup adds, was establishing and codifying the company's values early on and hiring people who align with those values.

"When we explain our values, we can see right away whether it's a good fit," he says.

This is Part 2 in a two-part web-exclusive series on manufacturing leadership. To read Part 1, click here. For more, read "Leadership Starts at the Top" in the March issue of IndustryWeek

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