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Friday, August 16, 2013


Leadership is usually defined as organizing a group of people toward a common purpose. What qualities do you need to be a leader? Well, business is full of intangibles but after decades of observation, I would say that nothing is as intangible as leadership.

Back in the 1990’s some CEO’s had achieved almost rock start status. Today, perhaps only 83 year old Warren Buffett still maintains that status. It is interesting to observe that there has been clear progress in production techniques, marketing, strategy and usually finance in recent decades but leadership still appears no better than average in most companies.

There is no question that a motivating leader is very valuable but as times change and business conditions evolve, perhaps a different skill set is needed as well relative to what worked in the past. If you look at treatises on leadership, they invariably mention the following as necessary attributes: Technical competence, ability to absorb concepts, size up talent well, have a proven track record in their field, people skills, sound judgement and strong character. It is hard to argue with that list but going forward the last few may be the most important. These skills are what industrial psychologists often refer to as “soft skills.” Those who have soft skills can bring passion and significance to the work which helps to retain great employees who may be highly sought after by other companies.

 One thing that is prominent today in discussion of leadership really mystifies me. Today, leaders are said to really need to be “authentic.” If you want people to trust you and follow you, you need to be yourself. People should not have to worry about what you are thinking. Did you know that managers and executives can now go to weekend seminars on authenticity training? Forgive me, but how does one learn to be authentic in a weekend? No one has been able to isolate or distill charisma which allows a leader to get their team to follow them to hell and back.

There is no question that there are different styles of successful leadership. Canadian researcher, academic and management guru Patricia Pitcher boiled it down to three major types:

Artists--they are imaginative, visionary, inspiring, emotional and entrepreneurial
Craftsmen--steady, sensible, predictable and very trustworthy.
Technocrats--cerebral, detail oriented, uncompromising and hard-headed.

Each type of leader is ideal for certain situations. Looking at this it became very clear to me why most ad agency mergers or buyouts fail or have huge issues. The first type of leader, the artist, would be ideal for a boutique agency and help grow it. If the company survived he would have to at some point bring in a craftsman, to manage the growing enterprise. Should the artist sell to a technocrat who runs a holding company there is going to be an enormous clash of cultures.  The technocrat may be a low grade financier rather than a visionary so his bottom-line fixation can drive the imaginative artist nuts. Also, the artist has not taken orders from anyone in 25 years and will not like his or her expense report questioned.

At the same time, the Technocrat becomes the indispensable man during hard times. If a retrenching or downsizing has to occur, the Technocrat will do what has to be done and not look back.

So leadership is not simply charisma. If someone can refine some type of leadership theory it will easily be the key development in business operations of our new century.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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