Great Modern Business Leaders & CEOs and Traits That Really Matter…

“The ability to ‘inspire and motivate to high performance’ was the single most powerful predictor of being perceived as an extraordinary leader” ~ Jack Zenger…

Business executives are no longer in the “command and control” position where their business can survive and thrive by their issuing directives and having their trained and willing minions carry out those instructions.

A leader must be agile and capable of being both proactive and reactive, often simultaneously and sometimes ignoring the formal artificial dignity that a position of power once dictated. Being bent over with your ear to the ground may not be the most dignified position, but it might be the only one that will warn you of the danger lurking just over the horizon…

In the articleWhat Makes a Great Leader? by Alan Murray  writes: Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and styles. But the question that has to be asked is: Is there a “right” way to lead an organization? If there is one strong conclusion that emerges from the best work on leadership, it is this: “Great leaders exhibit a paradoxical mix of ‘arrogance and humility’.

One of the most influential business books of recent years is Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”. Collins’ findings on leadership are compelling in part because they were unexpected. Collins and his team launched a huge research project looking at 1,435 large companies and ultimately identifying just eleven that had made the leap from ‘good results to great results’, and then sustained those results for at least fifteen years.

The team examined the good-to-great companies in relation to a comparison group, to see what made them special. “The good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars,” Collins writes. “Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.” Collins’ good-to-great CEOs were people you’ve likely never heard of and their common characteristic was their profound humility – and a tendency to use the pronoun “we,” not “I”...

“Humility alone, of course, is not enough to make a great leader. Equally important is ferocious resolve – an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the organization great. And that determination is often accompanied by a toughness and even ruthlessness in pursuit of goals” ~ Alan Murray

In the article Five Strategies for the 21st-Century Leader” by Diane Brown writes: Effective leaders can no longer rely on their own expertise. They must be able to meet goals by collaborating with others to develop solutions with flexibility and energy. Successful 21st-century companies will establish, develop and foster company-wide leadership.

Top leaders will learn to capitalize on the talents and expertise of each team member to benefit the organization as a whole. Driving stronger contribution within teams is possible. Here are five strategies critical in effective leadership:

  • Share a unified vision and purpose.
  • Strategic goal alignment and prioritization.
  • Learn motivators, and use them to help your team
  • Provide tools for success.
  • Determine realistic and measurable outcomes for a collaborative climate.

“A business leader’s ability to make sense of his or her contextual framework and harness its power often made the difference between success and failure” ~ Tony Mayo

In the article What Great American Leaders Teach Us by Sean Silverthorne: In an interview with Tony Mayo & Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business School, Silverthorne asks the questions: “Are there certain characteristics that all leaders possess? Could Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton be equally successful today running another company?”

In response, Tony Mayo & Nitin Nohir spoke about the ‘Harvard Business School’s Leadership Initiative’ and their attempt to answer these and other questions about the nature of leadership through its formation and study of the ‘Great American Business Leaders’ database. The study identified and analyzed the accomplishments of some 860 top executives in the 20th century, and results are now starting to emerge…  Mayo continued saying, “Having identified our pool of great business leaders, we organized the data by the decades in which business leaders initially came into the CEO position or founded their companies.

We chose to evaluate candidates based on the beginning of their CEO tenure in an effort to understand the contextual elements and influences that they faced at the outset. By analyzing our pool of great business leaders by decade, three distinct leadership patterns or archetypes emerged. We called these leadership archetypes Mold-Makers, Mold-Breakers, and Mold-Takers”.

‘Mold-Makers’ essentially created or enhanced businesses that took advantage of the coalescing context of their times. They built businesses that thrived in a specific contextual framework and modified their operations and leadership styles as the contextual factors evolved. Some admittedly were in the right place at the right time, but it was often more than luck that made the difference between being merely successful and being wildly successful.

In contrast, ‘Mold-Breakers’ were business leaders who succeeded in breaking through the contextual mold of their times. They sought not to be constrained by the present conditions of their market; they were able to envision a future landscape for success. Finally, ‘Mold-Takers’ were business leaders who saw value in industries and/or businesses that others thought were no longer viable.

They took advantage of industry consolidations and often breathed new life into companies; extending business value well beyond what others thought was possible. Throughout each decade of the twentieth century, Makers, Breakers, and Takers emerged in a variety of industries—all demonstrating a keen sense of contextual intelligence. However, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, companies still tend to favor the just “proven” talent, but often fail to ask “proven in what context?”

In the article “The Kama Sutra of Business: Management Principles from Indian Classics” writes: ‘The Kama Sutra of Business’ could be summed up by the old saying that “there is nothing new under the sun”. Or to use the terminology of Hong Kong-based author and inspirational speaker Nury Vittachi, the piece of ‘wetware’ called the human brain hasn’t been upgraded. As a result, many neglected texts of ancient wisdom are surprisingly relevant today.

Vittachi proves this point by taking us on a guided tour through three Indian classics – the Kama Sutra, Bhagavad Gita, and Arthashastra. Along the way he shows that “modern” business management concepts, such as, principle-based leadership, putting your people first, establishing win-win relationships, time management, and supply chain management have all been around for thousands of years. You could argue that there is nothing new here – but that is exactly the point… We don’t need new management theories; we need to rediscover the wisdom of the past…

In the articleWomen, Better Leaders for the Modern Workplace?” by Hudson writes: Women could be better suited to lead modern organizations, according to a major international study by global recruitment and talent management consultancy. The study, which involved data drawn from assessments and psychometric testing of more than 65,000 people around the world over several years, reveals the different working and leadership styles of men and women of various ages and positions.

It found that women’s natural characteristics and working style hampers their route to the top, and that they break into senior leadership positions by adopting or mimicking a ‘male’ leadership style. The study found that:

  • C-level women show personality traits that are almost the opposite of women in general.  Like C-level men, C-level women score very high on extraversion, decisiveness, strategic thinking, results-focus and autonomy. 
  • C-level women, contrary to their male colleagues, also pay attention to more typically female characteristics around altruism and openness.
  • Younger female leaders appear to focus rather on altruism, people orientation and cooperation, experienced female leaders on their end concentrate on openness and thought leadership.

According to a survey conducted by ‘’, “leadership” above all else, is the defining characteristic of a great CEO. When asked: What skills or personality traits are most important in a CEO? A 53% majority selected leadership, next was ethics with 19%, strategy followed with 10%, and accountability followed that with 8%.

Rounding out the bottom was a list of traits that are typically associated with strong on-the-job performance: management claimed 5%; creativity with 3%; and industry expertise with 2%. In a separate survey of 911 executives, ‘’ sought further clarity on the topic of CEO performance, asking the question: What are the criteria on which your CEO’s performance should be evaluated?

Again, leadership reigned supreme with 29%, then followed by impact on shareholder value with 22%, strategy for growth with 16%, and operational excellence with 11%. Then, creating an ethical work environment and creating a corporate culture both with 8%, and ability to hit quarterly growth targets with 6%.

Modern business leaders must have the ability to think like the creatures they are attempting to influence: The ability to immerse themselves into the role of their customers. The modern leader also must learn to play a good game of social and ecological citizenship.  

However, some experts say that only half of business management is leadership; a complex issue encompassing important, competing and strategic elements of business operations; twisting the age-old saying of ‘leaders being born’, whereas, it may be that ‘leaders in the modern business world are created’. And, the other half of business management is being an expert with elevated and enhanced management skills upon which a business thrives. Their job is identifying, understanding, and addressing key strategies regarding various management oriented operational issues that a company faces…

In other words, you must be a co-creator and materialize your vision through others. No one succeeds alone! A leader is nothing without a following and vice versa, so communication paves the way for implementation of ideas, support, understanding, and commitment to a planned action both by employees and stakeholders…

“A good general, a well-organized system, good instructions, and severe discipline, aided by effective establishments, will always make good troops, independently of the cause for which they fight.” (Maxim 56) ~Napoleon Bonaparte