Are Today’s Business Heroes Challenging Our Ideas About Leadership?

SUMMING UP New leadership styles should not cause us to challenge our belief in traditional leadership values, Jim Heskett's readers write.
by James Heskett

Summing Up

Is There Really a Formula for Great Leadership?

The overall sense of responses to our question for the month is that the leadership stars of today—Jobs, Bezos, Gates, etc.,—should not cause us to change our time-honored ideas about great leadership. Among the notions advanced were that they: (1) are special, (2) are entrepreneurs first and leaders second, (3) or represent a kind of leadership important for only one phase of the longer-term development of a business. Comments did suggest, however, that some ideas about leadership can benefit from a reexamination.

Tema Frank addressed a couple of these points when she said, "The fact that we can name so few leaders as readily as the ones cited in the article is because they are exceptions. There is no question that brilliant, strongly mission-driven founders can inspire people to follow them, despite personality flaws." Once the excitement fades, a different type of leadership is essential. Bill Eickhoff would compare Jobs, Bezos, etc. to Ford, Edison, etc. "No one ever raves about their so-called 'leadership' style. These men were outliers. Their style is not duplicable."

Kim Forbes set forth an interesting hypothesis in commenting that "We will always be able to identify examples of leaders that 'buck' the now orthodox definition of the balanced, emotionally intelligent, people-focused leader… the likes of Gates and Jobs may have highly effective leaders below them and they are the true heroes of these large successful corporations, in spite of their dysfunctional 'leadership'."

Today's leadership heroes, however, stimulated debate about just what constitutes leadership. It is an important discussion, as several pointed out. Paul Stavrand put it this way: "We need to be concerned about the outcomes of business practices and products on our global society, and evaluate leaders accordingly." Yadeed Lobo commented that "the mark of a great leader is the impression they leave on any employee." G. P. Rao added that the lack of humility and leadership appear to be inconsistent, if not contradictory. "In the ultimate analysis, however everything boils down to perception of the team members or subordinates or followers of the leader concerned."

The importance of maintaining an open mind on the subject of leadership was stressed by several. Ronnie Kavuma commented that, "I think that there is a place for both kinds of leaders and/or their schools of thought in the modern high tech and versatile business environment." David Wittenberg said that an "effective leader must be true to himself. Personalities differ, so leadership styles differ. It is a common fallacy that there is only one style that leads to leadership success." Pradip Shroff added: "The simple fact is that leadership is an art and science of blending various styles based on the situation." Yan Song summed up this point by commenting that, "Stereotyping leadership might be the greater danger here. Evolution neither begins nor ends with current crops of leaders. In all practical situations, one needs a mixture of different leadership styles to induce human energy … " Jerry Houser advised us to consider that "understanding leadership means understanding the emotions of leaders and followers. Brain science is making me question much of the literature I've read on leadership."

These comments call for the question: Is there really a formula for great leadership? What do you think?

Original Article

Just as I began to conclude that I understood leadership pretty well, I've begun to wonder. Let's start with the leadership associated with large organizations with relatively long histories.

In recent years, we have been educated by concepts such as MBWA (management by walking around, introduced by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman), Level 5 Leadership (described by Jim Collins as centered around personal humility and professional will), servant leadership (defined by Robert Greenleaf in terms of service to others as a leader's most important role), and authentic leadership (characterized by Bill George as comprising leaders who understand their purpose, are true to a set of solid values, lead with their heart, establish connected relationships, and demonstrate self-discipline), among others. These philosophies, based on a lot of anecdotal evidence, describe the kind of people we'd want to work for. They are associated with large, well-established organizations that I studied and admired in graduate school, the kind that Collins and Jerry Porras wrote about as being "built to last."

Then I read biographies of today's business heroes. They portray people who are not short on vision. But are these people who meet the standards for great leadership described above? For example, both Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos are said to have challenged people to do their best work, but in somewhat demeaning ways. They, along with Bill Gates, threw public tantrums. Whether it is a consequence or not, there appears to be a trail of former executives of Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. (I specifically referred to heroes in my question, because potential heroines like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer have just recently risen to high levels in the high-tech world.)

Maybe venture capitalists have the answer. They have followed a long-standing practice of cashing out founders and entrepreneurs at the time of a first or second round of outside funding. The idea is (or was?) that at that stage of development, an organization needs professional leadership of the kind that Peters, Waterman, Collins, Greenleaf, George, and others describe.

Maybe Jobs, Bezos, Gates, and others are the exceptions that didn't get cashed out. They survived the venture capitalist's "purge" by growing their companies in ways that allowed them to retain ownership and control. Or they made their genius indispensable to the success of their companies (in the eyes of funders). When asked the standard "cash out" question by venture capitalists, "Would you rather be rich or be king?," they must have answered, "Both," and made it work.

Should we attribute a few examples of the Jobs-Bezos school of leadership to the diversity within any small group of leaders, or to the world of high-tech startups? Regardless, they cast long shadows in that they appear to be the inspiration for a new generation of entrepreneurs who are founders of companies getting very big very fast with neither formal leadership training nor thought of cashing out.

Are founders and entrepreneurs a separate breed? Should they be excused from a discussion of great leadership? Or are the most successful among their ranks a harbinger of the future of management in a fast-moving, high tech competitive world that increasingly rewards innovation, transient competitive advantage, and the kinds of leadership that produce them? Are today's business heroes challenging our ideas about leadership? What do you think?

For Additional Reading:

Jim Collins, "Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve," Harvard Business Review, January 2001, pp. 67-76.

James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: HarperBusiness, 1994).

Bill George, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).

Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership (Mahwah, N. J.: The Paulist Press, 1977)

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).

Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (New York: Harper & Row, 1982).

Brad Stone, the everything store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (New York; Little, Brown & Company, 2013).

Note: There is no reference to a biography of Bill Gates. While several are available, I don't believe the definitive biography for him as a business leader has yet been written.

    • Joel M. Koblentz
    • Senior Partner, The Koblentz Group
    This is truly a leadership dilemma.

    Once again, CEO tenure is beginning to shorten and accordingly, these leaders view their roles as short term stewards to accretion and not necessarily as stewards of longer term sustainable positioning and value.

    As such, many of these leaders, founders/visionaries or not, place their personal and professional interests above those that they lead. In times of uncertainty and in the face of a rapidly reforming global economy characterized by technology and asymmetrical aspects, this is especially prevalent.

    Winning trust among leadership teams is essential to building winning but flexible strategies and effective execution. Today, we are "brain driven" by talent in every respect. And, if top talent isn't fully engaged and in an environment where trust of competency and action leads to winning, it see no barriers or any alternative but to exit.
    • Pradip Shroff
    • Owner, CEO Coach
    We are in a world with many Management Guru who come out with new insight. Quite frequently these are "word smithing" of a core concept. The simple fact is that Leadership is an art and science of blending various styles based on the situation. Most successful leaders have neither been Level 5, nor authentic nor servant. They however have delivered results. One can find may of them as leader of countries like UK's Margret Thatcher, Singapore PM Lee and now India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. All of them have a combination of "autocratic, democratic ( may be benevolent is a better word) leadership style with understanding of ground level reality."
    • Anonymous
    CEOs are often isolated and perhaps purposefully aloof from their employees. Hence, the-disconnect, carelessness and disloyalty of the worker bees. To make matters worse, the salary discrepancy between the executive and the regular staff has become monumental. In order for the upper management to gain the respect and admiration of their employees, they need to be more open, transparent, sincere, approachable, empathetic, mentoring, encouraging, recognizing, genuine, inspiring & serving the needs of others, and most of all humble. To do all that, and be the innovator, navigator and strategist of your company, is being a true visionary striving for excellence, company wide.
    • G.P.rao
    • Founder chairman, Spandan (Foundation for Human Values in Management), India.
    An interesting and intriguing proposition. Interesting, because, on the face of it, lack of humility and leadership appear to be - as made out a case in the write up - inconsistent, if not contradictory. Intriguing, when we think of looking in to the issue deep. For instance, let us take the route of 3 Ps: Possession, Projection and Perception. What do we mean by humility? Is it an end or a means vis a vis effective leadership? If it is a means, can a mask of humility be put on if it (is expected to) helps the leader motivate the team in the desired manner? Conversely, can a face of assertiveness - if not, aggressiveness - be projected?
    In the ultimate analysis, however, every thing boils down to perception of the team members or subordinates or followers of the leader concerned. The projection of humility by the leader may be perceived as his genuine face or act of concealed hypocrisy.
    • Kim Forbes
    • Director, Tui Cleaning
    I remember a friend of mine saying that his father smoked until he was 92, so smoking can't be that harmful. We will always be able to identify examples of leaders that 'buck' the now orthodox definition of balanced, emotionally intelligent, people focused leader. However, all of the four dysfunctional organisations I have worked in have been lead by a leader devoid of balance, emotion or empathy.
    In addition, leadership at all levels of the organisation is important so the like of Gates and Jobs may have highly effective leaders below them and they are the true heroes of these large successful corporations, in spite of their dysfunctional 'leaders'. This phenomenon too I have witnessed.
    • John Slagboom
    • Automation Analyst, WellPoint, Inc.
    I am not an academic leadership professional on executive compensation; however, I do have a graduate management degree and did a paper on CEO compensation.

    I understand that CEO compensation is very complicated and for very important reasons. How do you motivate CEOs to act like owners of the Enterprise, i.e. act in the best long term interest of the Enterprise, when in fact, the majority of their potentially astronomical compensation package comes from stock options, that both they and the real owner of the Enterprise, the Stock Holders are very motivated and even demanding to see the value increase this quarter, not a year or two down the road, much less the three to five years necessary to see strategic change take root?

    The answer to that seemingly self-contradictory problem is probably as difficult as the central one we face in my industry, Managed Health Care. How do you motivate providers and user of healthcare to control cost when a third party is paying for it; talk about complicated and convoluted solutions we come up with!

    I do not claims to have the answer to either dilemma; however, I do believe the problem of CEO motivation became hopelessly complicated and dysfunctional when the Boards that are supposed to hold CEO's accountable for performance, also became compensated by stock options.

    Now the Board is essentially in the same bed as the CEO and no matter what types of complicated and convoluted checks and balances that are created to make sure everyone in acting in the best, long term interest of the Enterprise, the whole system it too easily "Gamed" to the advantage of all those who are supposed to prevent such "Gaming" in the first place!

    The CEO and Board are being incentivized to go for short term gain. Throw in Golden Parachutes and I fail to see what real risks a CEO runs if he or she chooses to "Game" the system to get rich quick, regardless of the medium to long term consequences to the Enterprise and as I have pointed out, the Board may significantly benefit by such behavior as well.
    • Evgeniy Rudnev
    • Associate Professor, Moscow State City Pedagogical University
    It seems to me that today's leaders look too prosperous. Heroes of past times were not so. If to analyze their way of life, not always - but some of them were traumatized individuals. That is what leads to a rethinking of values and the emergence of vision, new inspiration. Modern leaders have little difficulties. They are more concerned about income, find consumers and drop them into mouth. Most outstanding ideas and products in the past have arisen from personal needs and life of their creators. These were Disney and Jobs ... They were real. Or in the description of the leaders do not avoid the effect of Photoshop?
    • Kamal Gupta
    • Co Founder, Energized Solutions India
    I have similar observations. Good of you to bring it out in a discussion.

    Most respected leaders in Indian business, till the mid-90s, followed the traditional culture of humility, remaining in the background in public, of treating the organization as family. Maybe this was rooted in Indian culture of living as a large undivided family, where four or more generations lived together, of bending and mending to absorb and accumulate different viewpoints, but rarely splitting.

    That has changed to nuclear families, and that has affected values and thinking. We are increasingly becoming a "transactional" society from being a "relationship" based society. I guess we have to accept this and go with the evolution.
    • steven howard
    • vice president, sworld
    Look, the whole problem is their vision is their bank accounts. They do to a certain extent what was done before them, basically accounting changes, and lower the cost and try to increase efficiency and productivity. They don't have the vision thing, because they are in it for the money and fame. Also, the workforce is fractured, and because they reward the wrong people, with the wrong incentives, there are higher turnover rates than ever before. Plus the fact, the millenials are stupid in general.
    • Hugh Quick
    • Home, None
    Leadership and the relationship between leader and led has been a critical factor in human achievement ever since we made our (human I mean) appearance on Earth. Modern leaders are not expected to wield a sword and shout, "Follow me!" but it is not very long ago that they did. It may be that in a 100 years or so people will wonder how Bill Gates did it.
    • Dr A Jagan Mohan Reddy
    • Associate Professor, Institute of Public Enterprise
    Humility and integrity are the two most important traits of a great leader. Today we need leaders who not only show to their associates the stars in the sky but enable them to reach them as well.
    let's hope that the current crop of leaders understand these time tested wisdom and get extraordinary efforts from their people.
    • Joe Schmid
    • Managing Principal, Oak Leaf Consulting, LLC
    Leadership "heroes" from headline grabbers to startup founders, regardless of style, are highly visible to the organization and genuine. People see their passion, believe in it and make it their own. Want-to-be leaders are rarely visible, speak from their desk, and put on ad hoc fa?ades. It's that simple.
    • Paul Stavrand
    Leaders driven by a passion for their work/company will often achieve significant results; but their methods should be evaluated, and outcomes measured, in a more comprehensive manner. If we measure only one or two bottom lines (e.g., profit, sustainability), the list of successful leaders will be long. However, if we include measurements such as overall employee wealth and quality of life, customer enrichment, and community/society growth, the list becomes shorter. With the economic and employee size of Fortune 500 companies having ever greater impact on the world, and e-businesses reaching into billions of people's lives, we need to be concerned about the outcomes of business practices and products on our global society, and evaluate leaders accordingly.
    • Ronnie Kavuma
    • Finance Manager, Amatheon Agri
    I think that there is a place for both kinds of leaders and/ or their schools of thought in the modern high tech and versatile business environment. The 'right' ideology or leadership style will largely depend on the stage that an organization is in. For instance, the likes of Gates and Jobs would be better placed to lead a startup because of their sheer passionate persistence regardless of the sometimes negative humane consequences. This would ensure survival through rough terrains characteristic of startups.
    So a true leader should know when to exhibit the different traits. He should know when to take charge and when to step back
    • David Wittenberg
    • CEO, The Innovation Workgroup
    Jim, I vote for your option A: leaders are diverse.

    In the leadership class I teach, we discover that an effective leader must be true to himself. Personalities differ, so leadership styles differ. It is a common fallacy that there is only one style that leads to leadership success.

    This does not excuse bad behavior by leaders, nor does it signify that the ends justify the means. It merely reminds us that followers may give their hearts and minds equally to either tough-minded and prickly or soft-hearted and gracious leaders as the circumstances dictate.
    • David Physick
    • Consultant, Glowinkowski International
    Jobs, Bezos and Gates are outliers. They're the equivalent of the Morgans, Carnegies, Rockefellers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Their psychological metabolism is different and combined with some element of serendipity their ideas landed at the right moment in time. For the rest of the leadership population I believe the approaches advocated by Greenleaf, Collins et must prevail. Indeed, their "tough love" approach is craved by the young entering the world of work who want reason, purpose, support, development, encouragement. Is the reason the world economy has been through the mincer recently due to an absence of such qualities? Businesses are not mathematical models; they are collectives of people with all their inherent foibles and complexities and, sadly, in many instances these contrive to allow them to be led into blind canyons of dishonest and malfesant behaviour. Are the real role models those business leaders runni
    ng small, third or fourth generation family enterprises, unsullied by the oppression of large corporate performance management / long-term bonus schemes? In their own quite way, they are putting mighty dents in the universe.
    • Yadeed Lobo
    I think I would go with Jim Collins Level 5 leadership trait of personal humility and professional resolve.

    Unfortunately in today's world, narcissism and the cult of personality is so pervasive. It has become hard to distinguish between the image portrayed and what the person actually is upfront.

    With so many autobiographies/secretly paid for biographies being published(like the recent one from New Zealand's sitting Prime Minister) it almost seems as if everyone wants to prove/justify their leadership in words not earn their leadership in genuinely intentioned actions.

    I guess the mark of a great leader is the impression they leave on any employee.

    One I think which is very important is the ability to genuinely listen and then actually follow-up. To the rank and file in any organisation who just wants to make their voice known and feel a bit important, that can make all the difference.
    • Donald Alexander
    • Senior Lecturer, Public relations & Organisational Communication, Charles Sturt University
    My PhD research has identified another type of leader- the Communicating Leader. This person is an effective listener, builds and maintains strong relationships with key stakeholders ( external and internal), is honest and transparent, trustworthy and can articulate and deliver a vision. A small number of Australian CEO's meet this criteria, and their organisations are also leading performers, delivering strong returns to shareholders, and they are nominated by analysts and the media as being effective leaders.
    • Marc Bridgham
    • Founder, The Triskelion Group
    I think there may be two factors that make leaders like a Jobs or others palatable as leaders even though they are not the kind we might wish to follow personally. One is that they are usually authentic or congruent in the sense that they are always purely themselves, regardless of how appealing that self may be in the moment to others. Many times they are, in fact, fearless and somewhat frightening in their authenticity. So I think there is some respect for that congruence, consistency and authenticity. Secondly, and I suspect more importantly, these leaders are creating unprecedented possibilities and entities. It is the lure and gratification of belonging to such an organization that creates followers more than the leader-person themselves. I had a very personal experience of that myself working for a vice-president who broke most of the rules of an admirable leader and yet he was so bold and willing to create unprecedented and hi
    storic circumstances that you willingly put up with sometimes cringeworthy behavior in order to be part of those things. To be fair, if he thought you were ok and part of the team, then you were not often subject to the objectionable behavior.
    • Charles Clark
    • General Manager, SP Municipal Utility District
    i don't consider Jods/Gates etc leaders in any way shape or form; to compare them with the true leaders is an insult. There is no way to compare greed and wealth with developing people; the whole concept of "I" want to be rich and king has absolotlly nothing to do with leadership.
    • Yan Song
    Stereotyping leadership might be the greater danger here. Evolution neither begins nor ends with current crops of leaders. In all practical situations, one needs a mixture of different leadership styles to induce human energy flowing in the direction of greater complexity, give and take a few twists and turns here and there, now and then. A great versus merely good leader is one who is able to weave such twists and turns into patterns of consistent beauty and effectiveness. There is no such thing as 'leading from behind'. If a leader could not see what's ahead in him/herself and others, he or she cannot be a leader by definition. The so called servant leader is one who has mastered the art of harnessing human potential out of imperfect human beings by democratic versus tyrannical means. He or she is not leading from behind at all but miles ahead when measured by evolutionary standards. I seriously doubt the notion that past leaders have mo
    re humility. In any age, what dominates the popular press is hardly the leading edge of evolution. Jobs, Bezos and Gates are hardly the pinnacles of leadership nor the most ruthless organizers of human endeavor in history. We could all learn something from their great accomplishments without necessarily embracing the abrasive aspects of their imperfect personality as is the case for the rest of us.
    • Ganesan Srinivasan
    • Director of Business Analysis, Bunge
    Innovator CEOs, who have a vision for game changing technology or business, and are passionate and driven to achieve their vision at all costs, tend to be ruthless, brutal and obnoxious in their approach. But they do accomplish what they set out for and it is often game changing. CEOs who gain leadership of established businesses are often the ones who have the luxury of a measured, longer term outlook and leading from behind may make sense in this context.
    • Klasie Wessels
    • Founder of Streetschool,
    Very good question! I would agree with you. We did some qualitative research in South Africa and most lacking in Leadership development are aspects such as: leading self with humility, leading others with the awareness that we are all interconnected and interdependent, leading with a sense of meaning. the next leadership frontier may be "leading self" in addition to leading other and the company. We are in the process of developing a leadership workshop in conjunction with Tibetan monks in India.
    • Dr Ramanand Yadav
    • Lecturer, Indian Maritime University
    First of all, I would like to thank Mr James for initiating a discussion with comprehensively outlining the significant theories of leadership.
    While going through various theories of leadership, particularly, with my ongoing teaching career, I found every theory speaks about leadership in an unique way. Every theory has a situational relevance and no theory can be best fitting to all situations. Personally, I feel, in today's context Higher Ambition Leadership is most appropriate in ideal situations of competitiveness and innovation, where managers are need to bring differences.
    In the context of the futuristic orientation of leadership, I feel, exploration of great leadership practices will continue either by creating a new theory altogether or by merging two or more theories to suit the situation. The technical skills will be contributory to effective leadership practices.
    • Tema Frank
    • President, Frank Online Marketing, & Web Mystery Shoppers Inc.
    The fact that we can name so few leaders as readily as the ones cited in the article is because they are exceptions.

    There is no question that brilliant, strongly mission-driven founders can inspire people to follow them, despite personality flaws. As Guy Kawasaki said in my interview with him (, "When Steve said your idea was crap, it really was crap."

    Remember too that Jobs got fired because of his personality flaws. Turned out he was so determined and so brilliant in his understanding of consumer behaviour that the company needed to give him a second chance or die. And, as one of the other commenters noted, people will put up with a lot if they get to be part of something truly revolutionary and exciting.

    Once the excitement fades, a different type of leadership is essential. Which is why most company founders do end up stepping back eventually, and accepting the need for more professional leadership. (Unfortunately, those leaders also often fail because they lack the inspirational vision of the founders.)
    • Hugh Quick
    • home, None
    It is a fallacy to think that real leaders were modest and 'retiring' types and modern leaders won't succeed if they try to be so. The minute men didn't sit in their chairs and say, "It doesn't matter." they got on their horses and warned others of what was happening.
    • Jerry Houser
    • Associate Dean, University
    Brain science is proving that decision making is first of all emotional, then self-justifying/rationalizing. It is not a logical data-driven activity. Followership is similar. We follow stupid leaders or ideas because of our needs, fears, goals, etc. Leaders make emotionally-based decisions and followers go along with them because of emotional alignment.

    So, understanding leadership means understanding the emotions of leaders and followers. Brain science is making me question much of the literature I've read on leadership. Even in my MBA program where we were being trained to use "scientific" tools for decision-making, logic, numbers, and rationality did not often win out in case studies or role plays.
    • Karen Rohde
    If Jobs-Bezos were leading "non-consumer" companies, would we be having this discussion? Is our interest in them because we use their products? A decade or more ago, the names were Welsh, Iacocca, Gerstner, Ghosn etc.

    Are there any "non-consumer" or "B2B companies whose CEOs have reached the same iconic stature? What are their leadership behaviors (if there is a pattern)? Have those behaviors changed over the decades?
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC(India) Private Limited
    Today's business leaders are hard-pressed for time and aim to achieve results as fast as possible. Their span of working for organisations is short as frequent change is a regular phenomenon. In view of this most do not feel they need to be part of very long plans. Thus, their leadership style varies from time to time and is not like the professionals of past who were more value and decent culture obsessed. Today's guy is least concerned about niceties and would like to achieve even by short cuts which may not at times be good in the long run.
    • Edward Hare
    • Retired Director, Strategy and Planning, Fortune 250 Industrial company
    You ask, "Are today's business heroes challenging our ideas about leadership?"
    I wonder....exactly what ARE our ideas about leadership? And who annoints...or deifies...these business leaders?
    I've worked for C level executives who said "it's all a game"...meaing, a game to get all the money they can and get out of Dodge. People were as as disposable as a Bic pen. All that mattered was their compensation. Is that leadership? Of course not.....but that's often their mindset. Founders and entrepreneurs can sometimes be a different breed, but not always.
    The question is really about what drives a leader. What's his/her motivation? What does he care about? What will he do when the going gets tough? Hard to know.....but that's what I strive to figure out before I'd conclude that a person in a leadership position is somehow "special".
    • Dr. Bill Eickhoff
    • Founding member of the John Maxwell Team, John Maxwell Team
    I would compare Jobs, Bezos, etc. to Ford, Edison etc. These men were at the fore front of technological innovation and chaos. No one ever raves about their so called "leadership" style. These men were outliers. Their style is not duplicatable.

    I noticed that Jobs spent his last 6 months working on his autobiography. When asked why he said " I wanted my kids to know me". That's pretty pathetic. He should have done I Dad. The extreme majority of businesses and organizations absolutely need the servant leadership model. Look at Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Jim Sinegal at Costco. Leaders lead people not things!
    • Joel Whitaker
    • Editor and Publisher, Whitaker Newsletters
    This simply reflects the classic dichotomy between leadership and management. Jobs, Bezos and Gates all qualify as leaders -- they had a strong vision and the will to make it happen.

    Thanks to a focus on "shareholder value," many if not most CEOs are not leaders, but rather managers. Consider the difference between Fred Smith of FedEx and the unknown-to-the-public Postmaster General who heads the Postal Service.

    Both lead large organizations. I assume both manage their organizations effectively in terms of planning, budgeting, organizing and controlling, etc.

    But Smith has an entrepreneurial vision of growing a business, while the Postmaster General has a bureaucratic vision of managing an enterprise.

    Bureaucracy works well as long as things are stable. And most ceos are, in fact, bureaucrats. Business bureaucrats can build sales, manage costs, maintain or increase profits. Business leaders, on the other hand, build new enterprises -- sometimes those new enterprises are built out of an old enterprise.

    Consider the history of The Wall Street Journal: Barney Kilgore had a vision of a national business newspaper. And he intuitively understood how to define his market: The businessman in San Francisco is in pretty much the same things as the businessman in New York.

    On that premise, he took the Journal from 29,000 circulation to more than 1 million the day he died. Along the way, he figured out how to deliver the same paper to readers in San Diego and New York, in Milwaukee and New Orleans, the same day.

    But Kilgore wasn't bombastic: He literally "managed by walking around." Instead of having department heads report to him, he walked down to their offices every morning, along the way talking with employees. All descriptions of him show him to be quiet and humble.

    Or consider the history of the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). Nelson Poynter had a vision of building "Florida's Best Newspaper" and systematically did so, in the process becoming the first newspaper to print color photos or maps on the front page of every section, every day. And he was the first businessman to successfully win an unfair labor practices charge AGAINST a labor union.

    There are many reasons for the economic troubles of the newspaper business. But one has to be the development of large media chains.

    The ceo's of these organizations aren't focused on innovation, but rather maximizing profit. And the local publishers have exactly the same objective.

    So when the web came along, they responded like Postal Service bureaucrats -- not like the newspaper publishers of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s almost all of whom were among the first to get licenses for those new-fangled things call radio and television.
    • Marlis Krichewsky
    • social science researcher, CIRPP- Paris
    According to my experience in private and public organizations in Europe good leadership is leadership in tune with the situation (process, system, actors, stakes). So from my point of view the most important leadership qualities are
    1. intelligence of the situation
    2.careful decision making
    3. relational competences to get real team support
    4. charisma and modesty well balanced when the company faces important difficulties.
    Service, support, empowerment and continuous learning are important as well on an every-day basis.
    • Maneesh Singhal
    • Sr. IT Applications Manager, Vermeer Corp.
    Leadership is situational. Every leader has to adapt to what they have to overcome to maintain the integrity of their vision and purpose. Common thread among leaders listed is that they had unwavering vision of new things that were not established at the time they started. May be the question is, given their challenge, what prompted them to choose the style they did choose? Is it the group of people around them, what pressures were they facing in launching their ideas....?

    Obviously, other leaders have tried different styles based on their own industry, newness of their ideas, type of workforce around them etc. Many of them have been very successful. Not all of them are as publicly known or their impact on society as visible. That does not diminish their achievements or validity of their approach. Celebrity nature of the leaders mentioned in the article does not make them role model for all, in all situations.
    • Hugh Quick
    • home, none
    Leaders must lead, that is they must inspire or force others to follow their schemes. I was an enthusiastic sportsman in my youth (oarsman). I quickly discovered that leaders had the ability to inspire me to greater effort than I could have achieved on my own.
    • Mason Oghenejobo
    • Strategy and Portfolio Adviser, Seplat Petroleum Dev. Co. Ltd, Lagos. Nigeria
    We should not confuse leadership styles with the heart or values of leaders. I will argue that Bill Gates has a humble heart. The fact that he currently spends a great deal of his time and money for humanity attests to this. Steve Jobs was also humble as he did not flaunt his wealth around. Leaders who are strong willed and resolute do display tough love, which is not pride or lack of humility. Some key characteristics of proud leadership include self-centeredness, poor listening, willfully blocking followers from growing or flourishing, non-concern for societal or human development and flaunting of wealth. Your examples do not fit the pack of proud leaders. They fit the description of level five leaders.
    • Ibrahima Diakite
    • Team Leader, Managing Director of CAC Guinea
    This is an excellent article about contemporary leadership. However, for me leadership is not about how successful you are in your business or organization but how much efforts you devote to making your followers as successful as you are. I have been to many leadership forums but have seen very few or maybe none of our today's leaders being able to accomplish this ultimate goal. I do recognize that leading is a tough job but this would have no relevance if it doesn't lead to positive changes for followers.
    • Gina Briguglio
    I agree with Dr A Jagan Mohan Reddy's take:

    "Humility and integrity are the two most important traits of a great leader. Today we need leaders who not only show to their associates the stars in the sky but enable them to reach them as well."

    I believe the recent Market Basket saga would be a great case study as we are observing an unprecedented non-union strike of hourly employees who are not asking for additional wages or benefits, but for the return of their recently ousted yet beloved CEO -- Arthur T. Demoulas. Clearly they are passionate to this man, someone they believe is such a great leader, they would put their own job security on the line.
    • Allan Cohen
    • Distinguished Prof. of Global Leadership, Babson College
    The endless discussion about what constitutes good leadership is at least in part due to the abstracting of leadership from actual organizational issues. Leadership happens not only when leaders are doing "people work" but making product, marketing, technical, operational, and other decisions. It would be more meaningful to judge leadership in context, as the VC community very roughly does by trying to match leadership style with organizational stage. That a few uniquely brilliant individuals like Jobs, Gates, and Bezos seem to transcend their harsh styles doesn't justify those styles in all contexts. And let's not forget that each of them has had failures and flaws. The propensity to attribute heroic capacities to leaders inspires a lot of truly poor behavior, both on the part of powerful leaders who dismiss those below them, and less powerful followers who hold back what they really think, costing the organization their valuabl
    e knowledge and confirming the dismissive views of them by the highly powerful. Leaders definitely need others, but enormous love and respect for a leader who has a flawed vision, misses important external changes, and only focuses on good relationships is also problematic. Beware of universal models!
    • David Whelpton
    • Private Investor
    I think the flamboyant leaders are indeed outliers. Collin's exhaustively researched "Good to Great" showed that the all of the best performing companies had level 5 leaders--not many or most but all. Sustained greatness requires level 5 leadership. You could argue Microsoft and Apple did not continue their excellent performance when their founders were no longer at the helm. This despite the network effects that leading technology companies often benefit from. These effects should make it easier to sustain performance.

    I might add that Steve Jobs had an extraordinary ability to inspire and persuade that may have offset his rough edges in the area of emotional intelligence and social calibration.
    • Peter
    • Engineer, Spectrum
    Fascinating discussion. Eric Stein is a professor in the business school at Penn State who has spent the last several years researching creative behaviors, teaching business students how to express creativity in the workplace, and identifying critical success factors for innovation.

    The bottom line is that many schools and companies are just not doing a good job at nurturing creativity. However, his work indicates that creativity can be fostered. Check out for more info.