Wanted: A New Breed of Leader

By Haapaniemi, Peter; McDermott, Michael J. | Chief Executive (U.S.), August 2000 | Go to article overview

Wanted: A New Breed of Leader


Haapaniemi, Peter, McDermott, Michael J., Chief Executive (U.S.)


The New Economy demands a lot of CEOs: business smarts, character traits-even knowing how to fail.

When Stuart Skorman needs to hire execufive talent, he looks for a certain quality. "Hunger," says the CEO of the Hungry Minds online learning company. "The most important single quality of an Internet CEO or president is a hunger to succeed-and I don't say that just because our company is named Hungry Minds." Hunger, he explains, "is what you are paying them for-to make this thing work, no matter what. When investors give you checks or employees give you their careers, you've got to have somebody at the head of the thing saying, `I'm here 24 hours a day if you need me.'"

Skorman's criterion underscores a key fact: everyone expects a lot of a leader in the New Economy. Indeed, there is a growing sense that effective leaders must have more than just good managerial skills and functional experience in areas such as finance or marketing. They must also have certain personal attributes that will allow them to contend with constant change, drive innovation, and inspire and motivate the knowledge workers and independentminded employees who are at the heart of the New Economy.

In short, the New Economy is changing our concept of what it takes to be a good leader-and the business world is working hard to paint a portrait of this emerging ideal. In a recent survey of management professors at 16 graduate schools, Worthington Brighton Press came up with a list of a dozen attributes for new leaders, including "a high level of self-awareness," "a knowledge of human motivation" and "the capacity and willingness to think boldly." Similarly, in a report from the Korn/Ferry International recruiting firm, a number of new leaders described themselves as being "communicative," "passionate," "rule-breakers" and "paranoid." There is also a sense of urgency in pinning these attributes down because, as the report says, the demand for New Economy executives "is rapidly outstripping the supply, while the time to get the resources onboard and up to speed is greatly decreasing."

WHAT DOES IT TAKE?

To a large extent, the defining attributes of the new leader stem from having to deal with the speed of business in the New Economy. That speed leads to overwhelming workloads, high pressure, the need to deal with a wide range of tasks, rising expectations of customers and an overarching belief that business can no longer be controlled in the traditional sense-that it must, instead, be guided and influenced.

Not surprisingly, a key attribute for leaders in this environment is the ability to make decisions with incomplete or vague information. Strategy can no longer be set and then executed over several years; today, the leader must pick a course without excessive deliberation and fact-finding, put it into action with only part of the answer in hand, and then constantly adjust the strategy as events unfold.

"It's really a matter of making a meaningful decision and then reevaluating that decision the next day as you get more data. That's the mind-set you need," says Tuck Rickards, executive director of the Russell Reynolds Associates recruiting firm. "Some people are comfortable with that, some people aren't. But if you can't lead a company that way, you are not going to be successful when the world changes every day."

The New Economy also places a premium on a leader's ability to form relationships quickly-be it with alliance partners or employees and colleagues. "A common leadership trait in dot-coms is that leaders don't rely on bureaucracies and empires," says Rickards. Instead, they tend to "think about what needs to get done and what resources internally and externally they can galvanize at a moment's notice to get it done." The ability to build relationships is important because it not only speeds things up, it also lets the leader bring the best people to bear on a problem-wherever they are. …

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