What Makes a Good Leader? the Go-To "Guy" with Vision and Passion Will Top the Org Chart-And Lead Change Management

By Bielski, Lauren | ABA Banking Journal, December 2005 | Go to article overview
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What Makes a Good Leader? the Go-To "Guy" with Vision and Passion Will Top the Org Chart-And Lead Change Management


Bielski, Lauren, ABA Banking Journal


Executive search professionals are nothing if not wily, quick on their feet, diplomatic, and certain--down to the glimmer of a cufflink--of what they are looking for in the people they evaluate. So it's not surprising that they should have a ready answer about qualities possessed by the "perfect candidate" for a bank CEO, CIO, or senior management position.

"He should be a fixer," says one.

"He or she should be about ideas," offers another.

"The right candidate demonstrates the ability to listen and absorb as one part of the problem-solving process," says a third.

The one thing that person should not be is standoffish--as in boorish or arrogant--or as in, most likely to hide behind a delegation squad. A good leader is a doer first and leads by example, many sources say. (Although he or she doesn't try to do it all, which we'll get to, later.)

Right up there with respecting employees, having emotional intelligence or communicating often complex information effectively, good leaders demonstrate the vision, build coalitions, and influence the rank and file in the art of execution.

"I tend to think of a manager as someone who primarily executes business process using people in the mix," says Bruce Pasternack. "But a leader fosters the team's smarts and capabilities as a more primary role." Pasternack is a former Booz Allen consultant and author of the book about leadership and strategy called Results.

These days, leadership talent isn't taken as a given. Mike Herron, vice-president, leadership development at $44 billion-assets Northern Trust, Chicago, says that cultivating a leadership skillset and attracting talent at the bank is viewed internally as of great strategic importance. The bank created a formal program three years ago with the premise that developing stronger leaders would create a more agile organization. "We want senior-level executives who are adept at motivating people and adept at aligning strategies with existing resources," says Herron. On the softer side of the skillset roster, such intangibles as the ability to foster teamwork are valued, he says. "We also want great strategic thinkers."

More and more, bankers are coming to realize that a formal approach to leadership development offers dividends. What's the right person? There are many archetypes to choose from: Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Ken Thompson of Wachovia, Richard Kovacevich of Wells Fargo, and coach Phil Jackson of the LA Lakers were all mentioned as examples of outstanding leaders.

Jackson--for those who don't know basketball--led both the Chicago Bulls and the LA Lakers to multiple winning seasons and has been rehired by the Lakers this year, presumably because his unorthodox approach brought him sustained success.

Latte czar Schultz was named because he has made respect of employees (including health benefits for even part-timers) as much a part of the company's mission as atmosphere is to its retail outlets.

Thompson, as one banking example, got mentioned because he has made ethics a primary concern at a time when lip service and stiff nods to regulatory compliance are more often the norm.

Dick Kovacevich was cited by sources as a great leader and "great communicator," making complex policy understandable in catch phrases that catch on. Meanwhile, he has also recently spoken out about the need for boardroom integrity, and generally is mentioned whenever a reporter is nosing about regarding inventive corporate strategy, particularly in the field of retail banking.

Taking them higher

Put aside for a moment cynical old-school theories such as the Peter principal and your favorite Dilbert strip. The successful 21st century leader works as hard as his or her employees do, setting expectations, steering the strategy, meeting and learning about the rank and file, and pacing everyone to deliver their best for "a higher purpose," in the words of more than one source.

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