What it takes to be a leader

Listening to another HBR Ideacast (the podcast I recently subscribed to from Harvard Business School) I was struck by Marshall Goldsmith’s definition of leadership. (Goldsmith is the author of the Ask The Coach blog and the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.) He says his research among 200 high performing leaders indicates that there a number of qualities found in the best leaders. Among the old favourites (which he suggests will still be on the list 100 years from now) are:

  1. Integrity
  2. Customer focus
  3. Competitiveness
  4. Vision

I bet you will find these on the list of leadership competencies in just about every major company – certainly true in Reed Business Information.

But in our rapidly changing world there are six new ones which make it onto the list:

  1. Thinking globally
  2. Sensitivity to cross cultural diversity
  3. Technological savvy (not being an engineer, but understanding how technology impacts the core business and having the ability to hire technologists)
  4. Alliances and partnerships
  5. Sharing leadership (managing knowledge workers – definition: people who know more than their boss)
  6. Learning agility – the ability to keep open to the changing world around us.

It was interesting to write this post so soon after meeting a bunch of start-up CEOs – Chris Michel of Affinity Labs, Kathy Yates of AllBusiness.com, West Shell of Healthline, and Alex Karp of Palantir.

How did they stack up against the “new” list?

  1. It was too early for most to be far down the global track, but a few of them were already talking of their move to other parts of the world, and internationalisation seems to have been built in at the product level from day one.
  2. Not addressed specifically, but Alex Karp did make an interesting point about the attitude towards talent in The Valley: he says all companies hire the best they can and discrimination on any other grounds is unthinkable. He was convincing.
  3. This one was evident is spades. The products we saw were technologically driven by people who really appear to feel technology can change the world.
  4. For almost all of the CEOs partnerships and alliances came naturally; in a world where things move really, really fast why create something when you can partner with someone who already has it?
  5. This one is clearly key – talent was on everyone’s mind. In the highly competitive atmosphere of The Valley (and with Google gobbling up vast quantities of the best) there is an obsession with hiring the right people. And these people are, almost by definition, smarter than their bosses.
  6. Even the 50-somethings had their LinkedIn profiles, and their Facebook pages – they tried to keep experimenting with the new social models even though they were clearly at times uncomfortable with them. This was admirable – and very different from what I have witnessed back home. You can, of course argue that these are tech start-ups so they are different. But Marshall Goldsmith’s point is that all companies are tech companies these days, or at least have technology at their hearts. So the argument doesn’t stand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *