CEO Leadership Traits: What Can We Learn From McCain and Bush?

I’ve been blogging for 14 years (and written a book, of course!), and I stick primarily to business strategy, leadership and organizational effectiveness. Those are the challenges I help CEOs with, so it makes sense!

There’s a topic, however, that I’ve had numerous conversations with CEOs and other executives about that’s broader than business. With the passing of George H.W. Bush and John McCain, it seems appropriate to explore what I know to be true in both my head and my heart: Leaders who show poise and humility along with strength are more effective in the long run.

You don’t get into the corner office or the oval office by being a wimp, in spite of the unfounded criticism of Bush back in the day. It takes considerable self-confidence and perhaps belief in the greater good. McCain and Bush had both. They also had flaws. Using perfection as a measuring stick is foolish. 

CEOs who put themselves before their company (or politicians who put themselves before their country) should be loudly criticized and thrown out of office. Dictators of the business world are no better than those in government. CEOs who act more like Mohammed bin Salman, Putin or Maduro than Bush or McCain cause misery, decline in the moral fabric of capitalism and financial value. 

If you were born a narcissist or have borderline personality disorder, I feel sorry for you and those who must deal with you. But most leaders who misbehave and put their priorities above the company’s aren’t genetically damaged. Too many, however, have developed bad habits by breathing their own exhaust and being rewarded for the wrong behavior. Just like the high school bully, they should get their ass kicked. It’s the required first step toward humble leadership.

There are many wonderful leaders (successful and humble, but not perfect!) whom you can study and emulate. There are also best practices that you can use as a leader to make sure you’re getting straight feedback and building emotional intelligence. 

Business and capitalism are vehicles unparalleled in their ability to influence society for the better. As a leader in this system, you have an obligation to society to not only lead with strength and intelligence but also with grace and humility. However, you must make a conscious choice to do so and take action to keep yourself on track. 

Sorry for the rant. Just seemed like the appropriate time. I encourage you to think about what successful leadership means to you.

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