What makes a great CEO? - Business Works
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What makes a great CEO?

Adi Gaskell, CMI
T he News of the World debacle over the last week has been hard to ignore, and the lack of proper leadership by Rebekah Brooks did little to change the culture that led to the demise of the newspaper. What is interesting is the obvious faith placed in her by Rupert Murdoch, boss of News International, a faith that in hindsight seems horribly misplaced.

Choosing the right person to lead your company is crucial but evidence suggests that many get it terribly wrong. In America for instance, research suggests that 40% of CEO appointments fail and are removed within 18 months of their appointment. Other research1 suggests the figure could be as high as 50%. Either way, the success rate is not good.

So, a new book by Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran could not be more timely. They explore Why are we bad at picking good leaders?. They identify seven attributes needed to be a truly great CEO:

  1. Integrity: the foundation of any good leader. The leader needs to be honest, consistent and ethical.
  2. Empathy: leaders are often famously narcissistic but having empathy for others is a key component to a successful leader. After all, it's impossible to lead people you don't understand.
  3. Emotional Intelligence: History is littered with failed leaders who fell as a result of their own hubris. Our own research reveals the lack of self awareness common in managers, so good emotional intelligence is crucial to leadership success.
  4. Vision: Whilst one of those often over-used terms, vision remains crucial if you want to be a great leader. In his study of great leaders, Warren Bennis found the one common attribute of the successful was vision. If you don't have strong vision it's impossible to persuade your organisation to follow you on the path to success.
  5. Judgement: Vision outlines where you want to go, but judgement often defines the path you take to get there. There will be many forks in the road where good decisions keep you on track, but bad ones send you down the road to ruin.
  6. Courage: Good leadership requires the ability to make difficult decisions, to lead people to places that have often not been explored before. Few good leaders exist that lack the courage to make those strong decisions.
  7. Passion: Leadership is a difficult job that requires a huge amount of energy. If you lack a real passion for what you're doing it becomes close to impossible to persuade others to follow you.

These traits form what they regard as the DNA of a great leader. They believe that if any of these character traits is missing, the leader will eventually fail, but if present form a powerful, defining structure. With the price of failure so high it seems amazing that so little effort seems to have gone into how best to choose the people to lead our organisations. This book should go some way to filling in that knowledge gap however and help us pick better leaders in the future.

Adi Gaskell is from the Chartered Manaagement Institute (CMI): www.managers.org.uk

(1) Australian Economic Review (2003) Volume 36 Issue 3

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