Saturday, October 03, 2009

What Makes a Bad Leader?

Every leadership book or article that I have ever come across always focuses on top leadership qualities, probably the easiest way to look at leadership I suppose. Select a handful of top companies and their respective CEO's and see what they have in common. Jack Welch: ex-GE CEO, John Chambers: Cisco, Steve Jobs: Apple, Meg Whitman: ex-CEO EBAY, Jeff Bezos: Amazon, Warren Buffett: Berkshire Hathaway, and Larry Fink: Blackrock. Qualities or traits that most often come up:

  • Clear vision and forward thinking
  • Hires the right people for the right roles
  • Collaborative in vision development
  • Establish benchmarks to measure progress
  • Results-based
  • Admits errors or mistakes
  • Commitment to maintaining integrity across the organization
  • Leads by example
  • Communicative and persuasive
  • Business and financial acumen

It would make sense than that bad leaders would be the opposite of the traits listed above. In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, they found this to be the case. More specific, the biggest difference between the best leaders and the worst was their energy and enthusiasm. No surprise that some of the best leaders are known for their "charisma" which in many cases can also mean enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing.

What I found interesting is criteria such as inexperience, lack of "proper" education and unproven track record did not appear on the list of worst leaders. Inversely, one could then conclude that experience, an MBA degree from a top program and a proven track record are not the important traits for the most successful leaders. (The one X factor for me would be an MBA. I just think to be a top leader, you need to have an MBA. My case is partially stated below:)

  • Jack Welch: BS from University of Massachusetts and MA from University of Illinois-Champaign
  • John Chambers: BA and Law Degree from West Virginia University and MBA in Finance and Management from Indiana University
  • Steve Jobs: Reed College studying physics, poetry and literature
  • Meg Whitman: BA Economics from Princeton and Harvard MBA
  • Jeff Bezos: Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from Princeton
  • Warren Buffett: a stint at Wharton, then to University of Nebraska at Omaha. Rejected by Harvard Business School. MBA from Columbia University
  • Larry Fink: BA and MBA from UCLA

If you want to be a top leader use the list below and do the opposite! Again, everything on the list can be controlled. Nothing states, "Get 15 years of management experience, get an MBA from Harvard or Wharton."

It all starts with energy and passion, believing in what you are doing and exciting those around you to feel just as passionate. Don't accept mediocrity, raise expectations. Have a clear vision of where you are now and where you want to be in 3 months, 6 months, 12 months. Collaborate with others and flatten out your organization. Encourage people to take risks, to innovate and to brainstorm new ideas. Communicate openly and be transparent.

The Worst Leaders


Harvard Business Review

, June 2009