Though some executives and management experts think the current
era offers a perfect chance to reassess leadership, many believe
that nasty old traits still remain. "Despite all the problems
and scandals, American leaders are still too reactive, not
proactive enough," says Chowdhury. "When I counsel
executives, too many say that they will deal with a problem or an
ethical issue if it comes up, rather than putting control systems
into place now."
Other experts argue that the myth of the charismatic leader
continues to plague corporate America and the country in general.
"Business is cyclical, and once the economy turns up again, we
will probably see a celebration of overly aggressive leaders
again," says Lipman-Blumen. Still others believe that, despite
the downturn, too many leaders of small and large businesses do not
tolerate failure or seek out mentors who could help them deal with
failure. "Having a mentor is absolutely critical, because you
need someone there, outside the main structure of your company, to
listen to your problems and provide realistic advice," says
But perhaps the biggest problem, many say, is that the wave of
scandals has made Americans so cynical that promising executives do
not receive the support they need to blossom into terrific leaders.
"Americans now are more realistic about what leaders can do,
which is good," says Chowdhury, "but if you lose your
hope in leadership, then you will never have the popular support
that really great leaders must draw on."
|Got What It Takes?|
|If you want to follow the
footsteps of great leaders, you have to:|
- Be able to communicate with a wide
audience. Successful modern leaders can communicate
their message and style to a diverse range of employees. "In
the old days, businesses developed a 'company man' who was
like a carbon copy of other employees," says Jean
Lipman-Blumen, professor of organizational behavior at the Peter F.
Drucker Graduate School of Management in Claremont, California.
"But today, the work force is incredibly varied, and a leader
has to deal with hundreds of types of 'company' men and
- Be willing to make unpopular
decisions. Communicating with your employees does not
mean you always have to please them. A successful leader sometimes
has to make unpopular decisions. Jim Collins notes that
Lincoln's decision to use force to keep the country together,
and to enact martial law in many areas, was very unpopular with
many segments of the public.
- Be determined to make sure your
messages get through. A successful leader does not just
define a vision for his or her company and then communicate it in a
few statements. "Whatever definition you are giving to your
company, whatever direction you want to lead it in, you have to
make sure your employees internalize what you say," says
Michael Useem, director of the Wharton Center for Leadership and
Change. "Make your words stick."
- Create and implement quality systems
and methods that will survive. "Many people can be
great leaders of a company, but then they spend no time worrying
about succession or leaving any systems in place for when they
retire or leave," says Subir Chowdhury, author of The Power of Six Sigma (Dearborn Trade),
a leadership guide. "Then what will happen after you are
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This article was originally published in the March 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lead the Way.
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