What the Best Business
Leaders Do Best
Anthony J. Rucci
Who's the most effective business leader you can think of in the 20th century? Is it Alfred Sloan of General Motors, John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil, Henry Ford of Ford Motor Co., Thomas Watson of IBM, Jack Welch of General Electric, or maybe Bill Gates of Microsoft?
Over the past 50 years, the topic of leadership has been a focus among I/O psychologists (Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992). It is easily among the most studied and written-about areas in organizational research. And it's not just psychologists who have focused on the leadership issue. Popular culture, more than ever, seems to be obsessed with the personality and charisma of leaders, whether in business, government, religion, philanthropy, or even sports. The fascination with leaders has been evident in the annals of written history—the heroic, visionary individual who inspires others to achieve more than they conceived themselves capable of achieving, as in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, The Song of Beowulf, the Bible!
The discussion to follow is about what it takes to be an effective executive in a for-profit enterprise. Do we also expect business executives to be leaders? I suppose we do. It's certainly safe to say that the most effective business executives will typically display many of the traits that would be necessary to be a leader in other contexts. But that may be too simplistic a notion. Consider the diagram in Figure 2.1. With a few moments of thought, it's actually