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The Art of Leadership

Nov 23, 2020

In essence, leadership is the art of guiding a group of people toward a common goal.  But what are the qualities of an effective leader?  Is it a matter of charismatic personality or something that can be learned and cultivated?  My interest in leadership led me to an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart?”

The writers of the HBR piece, noting that 25% of CEO departures are involuntary, conducted a ten-year study called the CEO-genome project.  The resulting data disputes the frequent assumption that a successful CEO is most likely to be a tall, extroverted visionary with an Ivy League education and an astronomical IQ.  In fact, the key finding was that, “successful chief executives tend to demonstrate four specific behaviors” and that most high-performance CEOs excel in more than one of these four behaviors.  Those with a poor leadership profile rarely do so.

The Four Behaviors

Deciding with speed and conviction

High-performing CEOs “make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction…even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains.” In fact, leaders who were indecisive were much more likely to be fired than those who simply made one bad decision.

Engaging for Impact

Once a decision has been made, the CEO must get people “aligned around the goal of value creation.”  Per the study, CEOs with a results orientation were “75% more successful in the role.” And while good leaders do solicit information and ideas, they must also be willing to engage in conflict and ultimately, chart a clear course—giving “everyone a voice but not a vote.”

Adapting proactively

The authors’ analysis shows that leaders who excel at adapting “are 6.7 times more likely to succeed.”  Equally, the ability to adapt requires an ability to think long-term and anticipate change.

Delivering reliably

Project data indicates that reliability is paramount.  “A stunning 94% of the strong CEO candidates we analyzed scored high on consistently following through on their commitments.”  The writers also note that reliable results require the ability to effectively organize, plan, systematize and build a strong team.

I think anyone can benefit by practicing these four behaviors.  After all, imagine an indecisive military leader, a football quarterback who can’t adapt to moment-by-moment shifts on the field, or any leader in business who doesn’t engage and motivate his or her team.  I hope you will find this information as useful as I have.

Botelho, Elena Lytkina; Powell, Kim Rosenkoetter; Kincade, Stephen; Wang, Dina, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart,” Leadership Transitions, Harvard Business Review,