CEO Leadership Traits: Healthy Culture With a Weak CEO?

Once a company decides where it’s going and why customers will buy from it versus its competition (vision and strategy), the next big question is how to align a strong team in pursuit of those objectives.

For eons, managers and HR departments have focused on creating dream teams with star players — individuals who have very high technical skills. Decades ago, an understanding developed that emotional intelligence was just as important for many positions as traditional intelligence and technical skill. The brilliant engineer who ends up in a management role but doesn’t know how to talk to people is the model for failure that HR was trying to avoid. And it was correct about this. 

However, one step beyond this is the environment in which all of those people must work — the “culture.” What’s required for a group of highly competent individuals with high emotional intelligence to succeed? A great leader. Not necessarily highly technically competent, but one who knows how to create the environment for that dream team to succeed.

The challenge is that some of the behavior and practices that foster success aren’t natural; they take hard work. Focused hard work on how the team works, not on the work itself. 

The likelihood that trust, candor, psychological safety, participation and accountability will all occur without intervention (i.e. leadership) is infinitesimal. You must create that environment and work hard to retain it. That means that as a leader, you focus as much on how issues are addressed as on the issue itself. You must encourage participation. You must reward admitting mistakes. You must model and stimulate healthy disagreement.

Perhaps there are natural born leaders, but the successful ones whom I’ve interacted with studied the science of leadership and focused on building the right processes within their organization. It wasn’t luck, and it wasn’t natural. We aren’t naturally vulnerable enough to admit our mistakes. We naturally avoid conflict. We naturally let the loud guy talk too much. We naturally avoid the hard issues.

Companies can have financial success for the short term with a weak CEO, but over the long haul, competency and the right behavior at the top are required for a team to optimize its performance. 

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  • David Turner

    7:49 am February 12, 2019


    Thank you for your regular insights into improving leadership! As you mention in this article studying the science of leadership is key to growing as a leader. And you are the master teacher.