This month’s Atlantic piece, Do CEOs Matter? has nicely laid out the conventional arguments for and against the need for aggressive leadership within organizations. The author, Harris Collingwood, ends by essentially saying that good leaders can create small gains whereas bad leaders will be responsible for huge losses. The idea here is: leaders can’t make mistakes.
CEOs represent the head of the social organization that is called a company. They are responsible for deciding where the company is headed, what it will avoid, and what it will say to the press. According to Collingwood, it goes without saying that sometimes companies, like families, will have poor figureheads representing them. In such cases, when the head of the family is cursed with bad luck and skills, the company will be adversely effected in a big way.
Yet, as the article did a good job of pointing out, it all depends on the type of social organization we’re dealing with. Companies like Apple, lead by the energetically brilliant and ailing Steve Jobs, are in the business of technology–producing and selling hip electronics at competitive prices. Turnover is fast and tastes change dramatically. A CEO like Steve Jobs is needed to make bold calls and set trends before the competitors do. Steve Jobs, in this roll, is essential and his choices mean the difference between success and failure.
Place Steve Jobs at the head of a more traditional business, say a Saw Mill, and his energy, enthusiasm, and creativity won’t significantly effect the bottom line since the company’s ultimate success is tied to the cost of supplies, i.e. gas, and wood.
Good leadership is still essential for every company, whether it be static or energetic, because it can translate to better results and an organizational set up. However, ‘superstar’ leaders who aren’t competent have the dangerous ability to quickly ruin their company in mere weeks. In the world of celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and Bill Gates etc., it’s tempting to imitate their commanding leadership styles. It’s wise to remember that their industries demand more brazen leadership choices–yours might not. Humility, modesty, and a solid work ethic, though old-fashioned, are still more reliable character traits in a good leader; a leader who can guarantee positive results.