Wednesday, June 23, 2010


The paper is from the subject Leadership and Management (L&M). I found the topic rather interesting, with the local lecturer beingvery informed and having a vast array of experience. And as usual, once my results are out, I publish my report at my blog. Hopefully readers find it an insightful reading material, and can serve as an example of a write up. Remember no plagiarism, (this content is easily google'able).

So here's my forth post, after the third post some time back titled PROGRESSING POSITIONS TO ISSUES AND INTERESTS COMBINED WITH FRAMING TACTICS.

What Makes Someone a Better Business Leader


Executive Summary. 4

1. Definition. 5

2. Are Good Leaders Born?. 6

2.1. Good Leaders are not one of a kind. 7

3. Leadership Practices. 8

4. Self Awareness and Conquering Adversity to Emerge Stronger 10

5. Learnings from ‘Not Good’ Business Leaders. 11

6. Summary. 14

7. Refernce. 15

Executive Summary

Many definitions exist for a leader. What is common among these many definitions is leadership should achieve an objective using certain means and approaches. Leadership is present in businesses, governments and other entities. This paper will focus on the business aspect only. A business enterprise function is to perform its economic activities effectively. Therefore a better business leader is someone who achieves an objective using certain means to bring economic benefits at a level higher and more efficient than average.

Not all business leaders are born, and definitely not all are alike. Better business leaders can be made, with a lot of hard work and time. Though there exist many definitions and characteristics about better business leaders, not all leaders are the same and cannot be ‘cookie-cut’. The one major consensus is that better leaders are self-aware. Possessing self awareness and conquering adversity to emerge stronger is a trait seen among many successful leaders. One of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances.

Leaders are able to lead not dictate people on a journey of learning that will reveal new insights about creating value. Kouzes & Posner (2007) define five practices to achieve this: by modeling the way, subsequently inspiring a shared vision. Then challenging the process and enabling others to act. Finally encouraging the heart by making people feel like heroes.

Based on TIME’s Top 10 Crooked CEOs among others Enron: greed and unethical is the cause. Therefore while exploring and growing ones’ capabilities, the fundamentals must remain intact: effectively communicating, taking responsibility and adhering to moral values.

It can be summarized that there is no one definition of a better business leader, but it is a title for individuals who delivery long term results, while growing oneself and team members, doing it ethically.

1. Definition

There are good leaders, average leaders, and then there are better leaders. Leaders exist in many situations, in family nucleus, in non-profit organizations, in religious sects and also in business. This paper will focus on the business aspect of a better leader. There are many definitions for leadership, with definitions varying depending on situations. For example Drucker (1955) defines leadership as the lifting of a person’s vision to a higher sight, raising performance to a higher standard, and building a person’s personality beyond its normal limitations meanwhile Chemers defines leadership as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task” (cited in Riggio, Murphy & Pirozzolo 2002, p. 140). What is common among these many definitions is leadership should achieve an objective using certain means and approaches.

O'Sullivan & Sheffrin (2007) defines business as a legally recognized organization designed to provide goods and/or services to consumers (for a profit). Whereas according to Drucker (1955), a business enterprise is an organ of society which function is to perform its economic activities effectively. Blagg & Young (2001) quotes John Kotter, HBS professor that leadership in business is going through significant socioeconomic revolution, comparing it the only other two socioeconomic revolutions of this magnitude: the move from hunting and gathering to agriculture and from agriculture to industry.

With leadership and business defined, what defines a better business leader? Better is basically defined comparatively to good, being of a higher standard, or more effective than other things or people (Cambridge 2008). George et al.(2007) comment that achieving superior results over a sustained period of time is the ultimate mark of a true leader.

Therefore a better business leader is an individual that can successfully achieve objectives through people and avenues, enabling an entity to perform economic activities more effectively and sustained over a period of time.

2. Are Good Leaders Born?

Kouzes & Posner (2007) stresses that leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic people, it is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others. Goleman (2004) argues that a strong leader will not be complete without emotional intelligence. He adds that fortunately, emotional intelligence can be learned, though not easy, it takes time and most of all, commitment (Goleman 2004). Blagg & Young (2001) quote HBS professor David Thomas that leaders are 90 per cent made, mostly from abilities which are brought to the fore by their experience in life.

Goleman & Boyatzis (2008) comment that having a talent of good instincts is widely recognized as an advantage for a leader in any context, whether in reading the mood of one’s organization, or in conducting a delicate negotiation with the competition. Goleman & Boyatzis (2008) deduce that it is not easy to increase one’s social intelligence, and the only way to develop social circuitry effectively is to undertake hard work.

Therefore it can be concluded that though there are individuals who would be more apt and boast strong emotional intelligence and leadership traits, scholars mostly concur that by being self-aware on ones experience and working hard, one can achieve the road towards becoming a better business leader.

2.1. Good Leaders are not one of a kind

So if good leaders can made and groomed, would they all be one of a kind, i.e. possess a cookie-cutter leadership style?

Both ex-CEO of Lloyds Bank (Pitman 2003) and George et al. (2007) agree that there is no definitive style, or traits of great leaders and their secrets to their success. George et al. (2007) insist that if there existed a cookie-cutter leadership style, individuals would be forever trying to imitate it, making themselves into personae (a fa├žade), not people, and others would see through them immediately.

HBS professor Joe Badaracco questions that if a person acts more like a manager yet makes an organization significantly does better without all the noise, are they mere managers (Blagg & Young 2001)? Clearly there are leaders who are extrovert like Richard Branson, but there are many successful introvert leaders as well, like Bill Gates (Kahnweiler 2009).

The following will present and discuss certain practices, traits and skills for being a better business leader, while maintaining that better business leaders are able to build on themselves, through feedback and self-reflection, successfully adjusting to the environment and required styles.

3. Leadership Practices

Kouzes & Posner (2007) define five practices of exemplary leadership. Firstly is to model the way, leaders create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. One way of looking at modeling the way is to apply the research interviews by Bennis & Thomas (2002) that great leaders possess four essential skills, namely the ability to engage others in shared meaning, a distinctive and compelling voice, a sense of integrity and finally the most critical of the four, ‘adaptive capacity’- the ability to transcend stresses, and to emerge stronger than before. Practicing this four essential skills will enable a leader to clearly model the way for employees of an organization.

Secondly inspire a shared vision: envisioning exciting and ennobling possibilities, subsequently enlisting others in this common vision. HBS professor Nitin Nohria agrees, stating that effective leaders are masters of the classical elements of rhetoric, being able to distill their message however complex it may be to something that is accessible to those who many not share their knowledge or background, an example of this being GE’s Jack Welch, who is astonishingly articulate and able to convey complicated concepts in just a few phrases (Blagg & Young 2001).

Thirdly is to challenge the process, leading to a change in the status quo, challenges ranging from new products, process flows, and trying out something knew with the informed risks of failure., Forth is enable others to act, grand visions do not become realities through the actions of a single person, but requires a team effort with solid trust and strong relationships embedded.

The last step, is encouraging the heart: leaders recognize and reward accomplishment of individuals, keeping hope and determination alive consequently making people feel like heroes (Kouzes & Posner 2007). This is in agreement with Pitman (2003) who emphasizes that leaders are able to lead not dictate people on a journey of learning that will reveal new insights about creating value.

Two of the practices defined by Kouzes & Posner, namely enable others to act and encourage the heart, is resonated by Buckingham (2005) who stresses that a great leader ‘releases’ instead of transforms, constantly tweaks the environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein. He further stresses that the success of a manager will depend almost entirely on his or hers ability to do this (Buckingham 2005). In the practical perspective many real business leaders do agree to a certain extent about the importance of developing people and that different people have different capabilities. For example Jack Welch known as a tough leader believes that there some who fit and excel in their jobs and then there are some that don’t fit and have moved on to be successful, finding their niche (Welch & Welch 2005).

Buckingham’s (2005) concept can be related to a combination of Goleman’s (2000) coaching and affiliative leadership styles, which Goleman states is focused more towards personal development than on immediate work-related tasks. He explains that the affiliative style focuses on praises and positive aspects only, while the coaching style focuses more on personal development which is time consuming rather than on immediate work related tasks (Goleman 2000). For these reasons, these styles are used least often as many leaders don’t have time in the high pressure economy for the slow and tedious work of coaching and affiliating, but instead need immediate results (Goleman 2000). Contrast in thoughts can be observed where Jack Welch the fast result oriented high achiever believes in letting go people who do not perform in an environment so that they can grow in other suitable environment (Welch & Welch 2005), while Buckingham stresses that great managers don’t try to change a person but make best of their talents (Buckingham 2005).

4. Self Awareness and Conquering Adversity to Emerge Stronger

Bennis & Thomas (2002) conclude in their research that one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances. Put another way, the skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders (Bennis & Thomas 2002).

Steve Jobs who was recently recognized as the fourth most influential managing Gurus (Kneale 2009) exemplifies this through his life story. In his Commencement Address to Stanford he shared that he had faced many challenges in life: having being adopted, being poor, dropping out of college and finally at age 30 he was fired by his own company Apple (Jobs 2005). However years later he has come back, bringing greater success to companies under him namely Apple and Pixar (Jobs 2005). He reflects that it turned out getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to him (Jobs 2005). It is this characteristics of emerging successfully through challenges that Bennis & Thomas (2002) stress are the crucibles or mold that makes one an extraordinary leader.

George et al (2007) findings that when 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, they answered nearly unanimously: self awareness. George et al (2007) therefore recommend that leaders should learn from their own life story, know oneself authentically, practice their values and principles, balancing extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, and finally build a support team and stay grounded. This is further supported by Blagg & Young (2001) quoting a Harvard Business School (HBS) professor Nitin Nohria, “Every one of us has experiences, but we aren’t all open to learning from those experiences in the same way”, stressing that one characteristic most leaders have in common is the capacity to learn and change throughout their lives.

5. Learnings from ‘Not Good’ Business Leaders

Most discussions about a better business leader take examples of successful and highly regarded leaders. It is also informative to analyze on the other side of the horizon: business leaders who have failed. Having an understanding of this perspective will provide a ‘to-avoid’ guideline besides the generally discussed ‘to-do’ guideline towards achieving greatness in leadership. Undoubtedly many leaders have succeeded, many have failed as well.

There are average leaders, then there are better leaders, and finally there are ‘crooked’ leaders. Leaders like Madoff and CEOs of Enron, had been regarded as good leaders for years, so what led to these leaders now being branded among the Top 10 Crooked CEOs (TIME 2009)? TIME (2009) claims that the reason for this is greed and being unethical.

Lewis (1985) identifies two points that are of importance to the theoretical foundations of ethical decisions: (1) one’s business ethics cannot be separated from his or her personal ethics and (2) business will never be any more ethical than the people who are in business. Meanwhile Allio (2007) explains that causes of this current ethical epidemic include the leaders’ personality disorders, akrasia (weakness of will), flawed values, and avoidance of reality.

Seeger & Ulmer (2003) elaborate that the demise of Enron is grounded on the failure of principle: a communication based responsibility of leaders, namely: (a) communicating appropriate values to create a moral climate, (b) maintaining adequate communication to be informed of organizational operations and (c) maintaining openness to signs of problems. Cohan (2002) concurs that the Enron scandal highlights ‘a recurring communication dysfunction within the organizational structure of the corporation itself’.

Allio (2007) summarizes that the emergence of bad leadership can be averted if leaders pay attention to the welfare of stakeholders, listen to alternative points of view, rely on their team for support, foster a culture of integrity and cultivate personal awareness. This is in fact among the recommendations made by George et al (2007) that leaders should practice their values and build a support team to stay grounded.

Seeger & Ulmer (2003) note that the examination of Enron re-affirms the role for leadership and suggests that leaders are obligated both to model and to communicate appropriate ethics and standards in congruence with their behavior. They further add that leaders are responsible about the operations of their organizations even in an era of decentralization and self–managing teams, keeping themselves informed and engaged in organizational operations. And finally, leaders have to be open to bad news, dissent, warnings and problem signs (Seeger & Ulmer 2003).

Seeger & Ulmer (2003) point out, that responsibility, perhaps because it is so fundamental to organization relationships and processes, is often overlooked, with the focus more on strategies and processes. Therefore the glamorous keywords: traits, practices and emotional intelligence skills are undoubtedly important to become a better business leader, but the basic fundamentals of ethics, communication and responsibility must not be overlooked. Indeed, Hamm (2006) believes that the real job of leaders is to inspire the organization to take responsibility for creating a better future, where the most critical tool for making this happen is effectively communicating.

Enron practiced a punitive ‘rank and yank’ appraisal system, where low rated employees tended to leave, and middle rated employees faced strong possibility of being ‘yanked’ within the next year, creating a cut-throat culture leading to deception and fraud practices to show profits (Tourish & Vatcha 2005). Drucker (1994) points out that what is required of good leaders is not just genius-ness or cleverness, but hard work and conscientious. They do not dismiss failure as a result of incompetence, but treat it as a symptom of “systems failure, and do not take credit for unexpected success but treat it as a challenge to their assumptions (Drucker, PF 1994). By dismissing failure as incompetence, Enron had created an environment leading to corrupt accounting practices and exaggerated results, which was bound to fail eventually.

6. Summary

I tend to agree with George et al. (2007), that no one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. They further emphasize that you can learn from others’ experience but there is no way to be successful when you are trying to be like them. (George et al. 2007). David Thomas, HBS professor puts it simply that increasingly the people who are most effective are those who essentially are both managers and leaders (Blagg & Young 2001).

Mastrangelo, Eddy & Lorenzet (2004) conclude from an extensive literature study, leaders must be concerned with both task and people related issues at workplace, i.e. professional leadership behaviors and personal leadership behaviors. They further elaborate that professional leadership works through the personal leadership to impact willing cooperation.

While exploring and growing ones’ capabilities, the fundamentals of leadership must remain intact: effectively communicating, taking responsibility and adhering to moral values.

It can be summarized that there is no one definition of a better business leader, but it is a title for individuals who delivery long term results, growing one self and team members while doing it ethically.

7. Refernce

Allio, RJ 2007, 'Bad leaders: how they get that way and what to do about them', Strategy & Leadership, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 12-7.

Bennis, WG & Thomas, RJ 2002, 'Crucibles of Leadership', Harvard Business Review, vol. September.

Blagg, D & Young, S 2001, 'What Makes a Good Leader', Harvard Business School Bulletin, vol. February.

Buckingham, M 2005, 'What Great Managers Do', Harvard Business Review, vol. March.

Cambridge 2008, Cambridge University Press.

Cohan, J 2002, 'I Didn't Know and I Was Only Doing My Job: Has Corporate Governance Careened Out of Control? A Case study of Enron's Information Myopia', Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 40, pp. 275-99.

Drucker, P 1955, The Practice of Management, Heinemann Professional Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Drucker, PF 1994, 'The Theory of the Business', Harvard Business Review, vol. September-October, pp. 95-104.

George, B, Sims, P, McLean, AN & Mayer, D 2007, 'Discovering your Authentic Leadersip', Harvard Business Review, vol. Februay.

Goleman, D 2000, 'Leadership that gets results', Harvard Business Review, vol. March-April, p. 16.

---- 2004, 'What makes a leader', Harvard Business Review, vol. January.

Goleman, D & Boyatzis, R 2008, 'Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership', Harvard Business Review, vol. September, pp. 74-81.

Hamm, J 2006, 'The Five Messages Leaders Must Manage', Harvard Business Review, vol. May.

Jobs, S 2005, 'You've got to find what you love, Jobs says', Stanford University News, no. June 14 2005, viewed 31 January 2010, <>.

Kahnweiler, JB 2009, 'Why Introverts Can Make The Best Leaders', Forbes.

Kneale, K 2009, The Most Influential Management Gurus, Forbes, viewed 30 January 2010, <>.

Kouzes & Posner 2007, The leadership challenge, 4th edn, vol. 63, John Wiley and Sons.

Lewis, PV 1985, 'Defininig 'Business Ethics': Like Nailing Jello to Wall', Journal of Business Ethics, no. 4, pp. 377-83.

Mastrangelo, A, Eddy, ER & Lorenzet, SJ 2004, 'The importance of personal and professional leadership', The Leadership & Organization Development Journal, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 435-51.

O'Sullivan, A & Sheffrin, SM 2007, Economics, principles in action, Pearson Prentice Hall.

Pitman, B 2003, 'Leading for Value', Harvard Business Review, vol. April.

Riggio, RE, Murphy, SE & Pirozzolo, FJ 2002, Multiple intelligences and leadership, Routledge.

Seeger, MW & Ulmer, RR 2003, 'Explaining Enron: Communication and Responsible Leadership', Management Communication Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 58-84.

TIME 2009, Top 10 Crooked CEOs, TIME, viewed 31 January 2010, <,28804,1903155_1903156_1903160,00.html>.

Tourish, D & Vatcha, N 2005, 'Charismatic Leadership and Corporate Cultism at Enron: The Elimination of Dissent, the Promotion of Conformity and Organizational Collapse', Leadership, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 455-80.

Welch, J & Welch, S 2005, Winning, HarperCollinsPublishers, London.


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