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Alexander Kjerulf

In my mind, this guy is clearly not a leader. The fact that he focused almost exclusively on his own narrowly defined personal goals - profits and retirement - disqualifies him instantly. It places him squarely in the "manager" category. Leader? No way!

I suspect you agree Steve :o)

I propose a much, much simpler definition of leadership: Leadership is about making people happy. The best leaders are those who make the most people the happiest.

People, in this case, include employees, customers, investors, owners, managers - everyone with an interest in the organization.

Taking this as the definition of leadership implies:
A long-term approach to business - not just a quarter-to-quarter focus
A commitment to the personal and professional growth of everyone in the company
A commitment to helping people be as efficient as they can
A belief that creating a great workplace and making a great profit go hand in hand
A focus on creating and maintaining positive relationships - inside and outside of the organization

How does that sound?


Steve, in reading this case about a leader who truly led a profitable company, I have to ask "What if he had...?" My sense is that the the company and profits would have reached a higher peak.

Dean Fuhrman

Steve -

I suppose one take on this is that we all have strengths and weaknesses. In my 30 plus years in the world of work, I have found that changing how one fundamentally uses the gifts and limits the effects of the weaknesses is limited. I am not saying it cannot be done, but there generally has to be a really cataclysmic event to get changes. So in this guy's case, he was successful ... from the beginning to the end. What would have lead him to want to change, see the need to change? David Maister, who consults to professional service organizations and writes a great blog, has written about the difficulty of doing what we know we should do. His example is dieting: we know we should eat less and exercise more. Pretty simple. And we still don't do it. He had to have a major health problem before he took it seriously.

I suspect part of the emphasis on leadership is that we more frequently preach what we'd like to practice rather than the other way around. Sure this guy could have been, for lack of a better term, more human. He could have taken a broader look at his position and seen the organization's needs and mapped out better actions. My guess is that he saw his success and essentially said why mess with it.

So was he a good leader. Most probably. Could he have been better. Most probably.

peter vajda

Just as there are functioning alcoholics, there are functioning psychopaths and narcissists. They create results...but the processing of getting from here to there, for me, is what's important. On the outside, for some, he may be a star; I'd be curious about what's churning on the inside to perpetuate his orientation to the world and to the people people in it that precipitates his behavior, (perhaps fueled by an ego, driven by fear, or internal feelings/self images of lack and deficiency that manifest in the narcissist as grandiosity which is what's reflected here).

Actually, his name may very well be a household word in those households that pledge allegiance to such types of individuals and their behaviors. Just not mine.

Joan Schramm

Steve --

Excellent, thought-provoking post.

Is the guy you describe a leader?

I'm saying yes, based on #7 and #11 in your list. #11, especially, is the essence of a "leader", and #7 tells me that the people who worked for him "got" him and his style and thought the benefits outweighed the bad stuff. The other things on the list don't diminish the leadership qualities.

Could he have been better? Of course. We ALL could be better in some way, but he obviously found a persona that worked for him and went with it.

Was Patton a leader? Absolutely. Was he a touchy-feely, "I feel your pain", let's hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" kind of guy? Hardly. Yet the people who followed him trusted him implicitly and believed in him. That's what leaders do, whether in war or in business or in sports or in any other arena. Being a leader sets you apart. You're not "one of the guys"; if you were, you'd be back in the pack and someone else would be charging ahead.

When I was in the Navy, we used to show the film "12 O-Clock High" as part of leadership training for new officers. The main character in that movie goes from being just an officer to being a "leader", and he has the sense to know what that entails. The pivotal scene has him riding in the front seat of a car and being driven to his new command. Partway there, he has his driver stop and he steps out for a little chat and a cigarette. Finishing the cigarette, he tosses it aside, instructs the driver to go on, and gets in the back seat of the car. Leaders don't ride up front; managers do.

Steve Roesler

Alex, Robyn, Dean, Peter, and Joan,

Please forgive the all-inclusive response. Today was one of those days where "life" intervened and it became a bit difficult to respond to each in sequence.

I find the range of responses and emotions to the CEO fascinating, and 100% consistent with the way the human condition processes certain characteristics and then decides whether or not someone is a "real leader".

I'm also thankful that this breadth of reactions came from people I "know" and have learned to trust from many previous conversations (as well as your own writing).

The conversation really highlights the difficulty--and danger-- associated with assigning "leadership characteristics". As a result, I'm going to use pieces of your input to underscore some key points in the next post, with attribution of course :-)


Actually, I would consider him to be exactly the leader that the board of directors asked him to be. And thousands of people followed his lead, giving them and the shareholders the financial gain and continued employment they valued.

But I do wish the CHO could have come in and worked a little magic in those meetings!


The "what if?" question regarding greater profitability (had he had certain other popular and more endearing attributes) was one that we asked ourselves continually.

The facts? Profitability under his direction exceeded investor expectations quarter after quarter after quarter and never tanked during his tenure.


That would be an accurate portrayal of the overall situation. Period.


Well, as you can imagine, he provided terrific conversation fodder for the process-oriented, analytical psych (pro and amateur) types in the organization.

FYI: I failed to mention that although he may have been deemed narcissistic at best, he never ever attacked, demeaned, or personally criticized anyone else in a public setting. And I do know that, behind the scenes, his performance discussions were always about business issues and improvement.

Joan: IMHO the Gregory Peck flick is one of the best representations of the range of leadership behaviors available. There are other segments that highlight the situational nature of leadership exceedingly well.

There seems to be some confusion out there when it comes to the distinction between "empathy" and "Kumbaya". In my world, the first is the ability to sense what's going on, convey that you understand, and then figure out (often together) whether something needs to, or can, be done about a situation. Often it cannot. The second implies (to me) that if we can just hug, regardless of the severity and cause of the situation, we'll feel better (but nothing will actually change).

Note: As a former instructor at the Leadership Academy at Ft. Dix, I extend an open invitation to any forthcoming Army-Navy games in nearby Philadelphia. The loser buys the beer but the winner has to sing Kumbaya as a display of empathy.

Clearly, my serious period has ended, so it's off to do the next post.

Really, thank you all for the thoughtful comments that will add depth and context to the third part of the series.

Josh Mullineaux

Often times a leader whom is viewed as effective, is someone who has the ability to get things done. Seth Godin refers to this as zooming; being able to adapt to different situations well. It seems like this executive's personality was to simply to focus on solutions not problems. This type of person can contribute to short term growth of an organization, but without a willingness to hear other's input, long term growth may be marginalized.

Steve Roesler

Kudos, Josh!

Because of space and time, I didn't give out all of the details of his tenure. But your observation and assessment is dead-on:

1. He was brought in originally to help systematize an entrepreneurial organization that needed some stability and guidance in certain arenas.

2. He also groomed a successor and announced his retirement before ever being asked to.

You are correct. He had a mission to accomplish, did it, and bowed out.

Thanks, Josh

Wally Bock

Naturally I think the guy's a leader because his people treat him like one. I don't think he's very good at it though. That style of leadership often works for the short term, or as long as the particular leader is in place. See Geneen, Harold.

Part of a CEO's job is to build long term competitive advantage and profitability. Those have always involved people and relationships. If you're not developing those, there will come a time when what's always worked won't work any more.

Steve Roesler

Dead on, Wally,

The long-term capabilities of the organization were nil. As a result, the Board's criteria for a successor included, as a high priority, someone who was adept at developing people and the organization.

The short term success was what they had asked him to achieve. But they realized that they hadn't anticipated the actual ramifications of a company with no depth on the succession chart.

Jim Stroup


The guy's a leader. The problem is that he arrogates all the leadership to himself, and appears to be incapable of understanding that there could be sources of it other than himself in the organization. This presumption (that there is no leadership but the top guy's) often is realized for the very reason that it is made, which is why your 1st question, about the viability of the company's long term growth prospects, is the magic issue, and points to the greatest danger of individual leadership, generally, and this fellow's style of it, of course, in particular.

The fact that he was successful does not endorse his style of leadership, but rather the tenousness of it, and the great good fortune of the company and those dependent on it that all the relevant circumstances converged to make him successful. Robyn is right: had he developed and managed the leadership in his organization, he would have attained greater reach and, likely, greater results.

Steve Roesler

Well, Jim, after reading your take, I'm thinking that this fellow is probably the poster child for "Please Help Really Good Managers Learn to Lead For the Long Run"(or some such cause).

While the cocktail conversation continues regarding "Managers" vs. "Leaders", the 'great leader' allure continues to color organizational thinking. Even organizations who claim to train and manager under the principles of situational leadership.

In fact, this particular organization is experiencing a "depth deficit" as we communicate here. The legacy is not pretty.

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