BLG Leadership Insights Features Proactive Leaders

The Person Who Follows the Person

Warren Buffett is no George Clooney.  He’s the Oracle of Omaha but he doesn’t have a lick of superstar/superhero charisma. He’s spent a lifetime getting things done.

At 80 years old, Buffett understands that Berkshire Hathaway needs to continue producing and succeeding long after he’s gone. With this in mind he’s laid out what he thinks his succession process should look like.  Since the beginning, Buffett has held the roles of CIO and CEO, but it appears that when he leaves (actually dies, because he’s made it very clear that he’s not retiring) that at least two (if not more) people will be needed to fill his shoes.

Over the past 44 years Berkshire Hathaway has had annual growth over 20%. Let that sink in. Hell, Bernie Madoff was lying his backside off and he only promised 10%. There is a lot at stake and replacing Mr. Buffett will be a pressure filled, herculean task.   I would imagine that there will be a need to convince the world that the individual or individuals who end up supplanting Buffett won’t run the company into the ground. Share holders and company leaders might be tempted to choose someone who’s colorful and overwhelming personality will fill the gap for Buffett’s monochromatic success.  Sometimes it’s just easier to put a smiling handsome (or pretty) and comforting face out front of any tough decision.

For a long time mankind has believed that charisma and leadership go hand in hand. As a whole we are obsessed with the idea of the leader as superhero. If you can’t leap a tall building, you can’t lead. If you can’t charm the pants of an audience with smooth talk, you can’t lead. Well, if you read my second paragraph it’s pretty clear the whole superhero thing is a crock. The only prerequisite for leadership is the ability to get things done.  It doesn’t hurt to be tall, dark and handsome (not that I would know) but you can lead successfully without it.

I am not so worried about Mr. Buffett. He’s going to have a hand in choosing who takes his place.  I am more worried about the person who follows the person who follows Mr. Buffett.

Will there be another generation of leaders that haven’t been tainted by our addiction to fame and charisma? Are we headed towards a future of style over substance? I guess a little razzle dazzle isn’t so bad, but we just have to make sure that getting things done is always the #1 reason we choose our leaders.

BLG Leadership Insights

Top 10 Compelling Proactive Leadership Links: Nov. 9-13

61. We always focus on leadership, but Bret Simmon’s does a great job of understanding the importance of being a good follower. [Video]

2. As Tim Ferris explains, Edmund Wilson believed that productivity could soar–if we stopped trying please everyone all the time.

3. Hiring a “superstar” leader might seem like a good idea, but there are some problems as reports.

4. The future of organizations may focus on innovation and, perhaps, community building with employees and clients. Interesting, clearly stated, argument.

5. Eisenhower believed that leadership can be learned. Here’s a few thoughts.

BLG Leadership Insights Managerial Competence

Avoiding Tennis Grunts and Keeping Prima Donna’s In Check

When I was growing up Tennis always had a bit of style to it–a special veneer. A sense of intended, or unintended, civility. It almost had a sense of colonial elitism; the unfortunate whiff of exclusion. Thank goodness those days are gone. Now character has entered the game and drama has become part and parcel of modern tennis.

That said, yesterday, I went to see my 13 year old play tennis on the courts and I witnessed, on the surrounding courts not passion, but hysteria.

To my left two young women were engaged in grunting so loud that it was disturbing the other players. On a parallel court a 12 year old threw his racket to the ground and started to pound the court hysterically after losing a match.

In each instance nothing was done. The coaches and the parents let it slide. The behavior, it seemed, was accepted as part of the new, emerging, culture.

I could overhear one parent saying, “Well, he plays wonderfully, he’s a star. I try to discipline him, but I keep in mind how good he is.”

I shook my head. I was stunned. This is a slippery slope.

How much are we willing to tolerate in the name of competence?

In the workplace I’ve often witnessed certain characters that feel like they can get away with pretty much anything because they are the ‘stars.’ Keeping the prima donna phenomenon in check is the responsibility of all leaders, coaches, mentors, supervisors, and parents….

BLG Leadership Insights

When is Superstar Leadership Needed?

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.