What Makes a Great Leader?

In researching ‘The Company’, it seems that we keep circling back to leadership and what makes a great leader.  This Wall Street Journal article by Alan Murray is entitled just that, “What Makes a Great Leader?”  In it, many great leaders are mentioned in relation to their styles of leadership including visionaries such as Julius Caesar and Socrates, George S. Patton and Abraham Lincoln.  His main conclusion: “Great leaders exhibit a paradoxical mix of arrogance and humility,” in that they need to be arrogant enough to warrant being followed but humble enough to follow others.

Mr. Murray speaks of Carly Fiorina and the criticism of her self-promoting leadership at Hewlett Packard.  He goes on to describe other leaders who had the ‘arrogance’ but lacked the ‘humility’ to plan ahead.  In contrast, Jack Welch of General Electric, is referenced as a great leader, specifically due to his creation of a successful succession plan, lining up leaders before his departure.  While referencing Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great,’ he adds that many of the leaders mentioned in the book were those one would not necessarily have heard of, furthering the point.

Other leadership profiles include former Exxon Mobil Corp CEO Lee Raymond, who was shy and understated, but led Exxon to huge success.  Also, former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley changed the company culture by insisting that executives spend more time with their customers and doing so himself.  Mr. Murray surmises that both of these leaders were ambitious but put the company ahead of their own objectives.

As we keep circling back around all the great things that make a great leader, some very common themes continue to emerge.  Great leaders are not those who make it all about themselves.  They are those who make it all about their people.  They show their teams that they are not above them, but part of them.  They demonstrate care and a genuine nature that makes people want to follow them out of respect, not fear or necessity.  They display a certain level of pride or drive that translates into change and smart decisions and they always seem to emulate what a company truly stands for.

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