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Keys to Spotting a Flawed CEO

The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the keys to spotting a flawed CEO. Of the twelve warning signs given by Clemson University professor of management Terry Leap, all boil down to problems of the self – ego. Leaders that disqualify themselves for leadership are those who try to make leadership about them. They lead for the self. In attitude and spirit, the act of leadership is about outgoing concern for others.

These warning signs reflect a lack of humility. Unfortunately, humility is a characteristic that is widely misunderstood. Consider the comment from Cathie Black, President of Hearst Magazines, quoted on the PINK magazine website. She said, "Humility and modesty are valuable personal qualities, but they won't do much to advance your position in the workplace." If you think humility is synonymous with timidity, weakness, or reticence, then perhaps her comment holds some merit. But that is not humility. Humility is about a proper self respect—neither thinking too highly or too little of ourselves—it is about a healthy respect of other people and teachability; all of which will help you advance in any situation.

Michael Watkins wrote in his excellent "guide for new leaders," The First 90 Days, "When a new leader derails, failure to learn is almost always a factor." Other than just not having the know-how to systematically diagnose an organization, he says some leaders have “learning disabilities.” Failure to make an attempt to understand the organization, a compulsive need to take action and preconceived ideas of what is “right,” all stem from a mismanaged ego.

Here are the warning signs presented by Dr. Leap:
  • An overt zeal for prestige, power and wealth. A manager's tendency to put his or her own success ahead of the company's.
  • A reputation for shameless self-promotion. Trumpeting their successes while quickly distancing themselves from setback.
  • A proclivity for developing grandiose strategies with little thought toward their implementation.
  • A fondness for rules and numbers that overshadows or ignores a broader vision.
  • A reputation for implementing major strategic changes unilaterally or for forcing programs down the throats of reluctant managers.
  • An impulsive, flippant decision-making style.
  • A penchant for inconsiderate acts.
  • A love of monologues coupled with poor listening skills.
  • A tendency to display contempt for the ideas of others.
  • A history of emphasizing activity, like hours worked or meetings attended, over accomplishment.
  • A career marked by numerous misunderstandings. There are two sides to every story, but frequent interpersonal problems shouldn't be overlooked.
  • A superb ability to compartmentalize and/or rationalize. Some executives have learned to separate, in their own minds, their bad behavior from their better qualities, so that their misdeeds don't diminish their opinions of themselves.
See also on this blog:
Taking it Personally
Four Warning Signs That Our Ego is Getting the Best of Us

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:01 AM
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