While not every effective leader has the giftedness, skillset, mental horsepower or even the desire to be a CEO, many of the core strengths are one and the same. First and foremost, a chief executive who proves to be an effective leader must be a radical visionary. In Steve Jobs’ biography, Walter Isaacson describes visionary leadership as he has for decades,
Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do…People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page (Isaacson, 2011).
It goes without saying that such iconoclastic ideas represent the extreme exception rather than the norm, even for strong leadership. The statement by Jobs epitomizes the greatness that Apple, the world’s most valuable technology firm, accomplished under his leadership and how they got there. It all began with an astonishing vision of creating the most remarkable products of their kind. With that vision steadily in view, the firm set out with one product after another and literally revolutionized other industries in the process.
Carpenter and Sanders describe the imperative of vision and mission of the firm, and how the chief officer instills these components into the very DNA of the organization. The authors explain how vision and mission lead to strategic planning and implementation, “vision and mission…reinforce and support strategy; conversely, strategy provides a coherent plan for realizing vision and mission” (Carpenter and Sanders, 2008).
From here, a successful leader must be able to lead an effective executive team from a position of strength. As Carpenter and Sanders point out regarding the primary stakeholders in the firm, the executive team is a group that has “an interest in the organization’s ability to deliver intended results and maintain the viability of its products and services” (2008). In other words, they safeguard and make good on the firm’s mission and vision. An effective executive team acts as a counterbalance to one another’s limitations, and exploits their strengths. Steve Jobs, in a 60 Minutes interview from 2008 describes the power of an executive team and said that he learned long ago,
Manage the top line, which is your strategy and your people and your products, and your bottom line will follow…my model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. And that’s how I see business…great things in business are never done by one person, they are done by a team of people (Jobs, 2008).
Finally, a leader is resourceful in ways that are a true outworking of their ability to see the future. This is especially true when a firm is in trouble, and a strong leader is able to take radical action that changes the course of history. In an unbelievable story, Walter Isaacson recounts the conversation between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates when Apple was on the brink of collapse,
I called up Bill and said, “I’m going to turn this thing around.” Bill always had a soft spot for Apple. We got him into the application software business. The first Microsoft apps were Excel and Word for the Mac. So I called him and said, “I need help.” Microsoft was walking over Apple’s patents. I said, “If we kept up our lawsuits, a few years from now we could win a billion-dollar patent suit. You know it, and I know it. But Apple’s not going to survive that long if we’re at war. I know that. So let’s figure out how to settle this right away. All I need is a commitment that Microsoft will keep developing for the Mac and an investment by Microsoft in Apple so it has a stake in our success.” When I recounted to him what Jobs said, Gates agreed it was accurate (Isaacson, 2011).
A story like this is not simply what legends are made of, but demonstrates the matchless grit and resourcefulness a strong leader must have, and display. A CEO and effective executive leader is the person who will take the firm into its successful future, and this not a job for everyone, which is why there may be many on an executive team, but one chief.
Carpenter, M. & Sanders, G. (2008). Strategic Management: A Dynamic Perspective. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Jobs, Steve. (2008). Interview. 60 Minutes. Retrieved fromhttp://cnettv.cnet.com/60-minutes-steve-jobs/9742-1_53-50004696.html