business news in context, analysis with attitude

Advertising Age has a fascinating piece looking at executives who have failed in their leadership efforts not because they lacked business skills, but interpersonal skills: “Call it the realm of bad personal style: an arena where the players flout mores, if not always the law, and demonstrate gross interpersonal, if not always professional, incompetence.

“Lately, the ranks of those who have vanished into this career twilight zone include Julie Roehm, the fired Wal-Mart CMO; Steve Heyer, whose personal style gave him leave both from Coca-Cola and as CEO of Starwood Hotels; Harry Stonecipher, whose office amorism cost him his job as CEO of Boeing; David Edmondson, who had fudged his resume and, so, got booted as CEO of Radio Shack; and Robert Nardelli, whose imperious ways -- and compensation to match -- created a cloud of opprobrium that forced him out of Home Depot (before he recently landed as CEO of Chrysler).”

The interesting thing, the story notes, is that many of these people have been brought into companies to share up the status quo, but failed because they simply did not understand that leadership must be multi-faceted – a true leader doesn’t just blaze a trail, but also inspires people to follow him or her, and to believe in his or her leadership.

The story suggests that there are some basic lessons that business leaders need to take to heart if they are to transcend some of these issues. Among them:

• Earn leadership stripes everyday, and “don't confuse career ascendance with divinity.”
• “Don't assume carte blanche,” because tolerance has limits and everybody is watching.
• “Give respect to earn respect,” and that includes corporate cultural issues that may seem obsolete.
• Be prepared to pay the price of loss of privacy, because that likely is the cost of leadership.
• Make sure there is someone in the organization who is objective, honest, uncompromising, and willing to be honest with the boss and make him or her accountable to reality.

KC's View:
Corporate boards, in seeking leaders, probably have focused on vision and passion without considering the importance of compassion…and compassion strikes me as a critical characteristic for any great leader.

Jim Donald, the CEO of Starbucks and a former executive at retail organizations such as Wal-Mart and Pathmark, does a wonderful presentation about the nature of leadership in which he outlines six steps important to keeping an organization energetic and demonstrating leadership. And two of the six steps are directly about people skills: 1) communicate to everyone in your organization, and 2) never be bigger than the people on the front lines.

We all know people who lead companies and organizations, but are sadly lacking in people skills. In the long run, it is hard to imagine that such organizations can achieve real and sustained excellence.