Leadership and the feasible

Talented political leaders, like talented generals, can win battles and campaigns that would overwhelm those less able or less energetic. So, asking if a policy is feasible is, in part, asking a question about the advocates of reform, especially their creativity, commitment, and skills—and about their opponents.

Getting Health Reform Right, p. 66

Although I’m still only early on in Getting Health Reform Right, there’s food for thought in every section. The quote above is from their chapter on the politics of reform, and although the political context of health care reform (particularly in third world countries) is an animal unto itself, this quote got me thinking about what makes a successful first-world corporate leader.

I’d start by rephrasing the meat of the quote: Asking if a corporate initiative is feasible is, in part, a question about the leader who sponsors it, especially their creativity, commitment, and skills—and about their opponents’ creativity, commitment, and skills.

I’ll have to be honest, I love this vision of leadership, not only because of how it describes the leader (creative, committed, skillful) but also because of how it expresses the interrelation between initiatives and the leaders who support them.

Isn’t this the kind of leader we all want to work for? The kind of leader whose initiatives we want to be a part of? And for what it’s worth, isn’t this the kind of leader any of us would want to be?

And while I’ve been fortunate enough to know many leaders who fit this bill, I’d be hard pressed to count on more than one hand the number of CXOs I’ve run across who lived up to this vision. Certainly any reasonably competent CXO will have at least one of these qualities, and more often than not two, but for some reason I simply haven’t come across many who have all three.

To be fair, I’m a latecomer to the corporate world, so maybe ten years is not enough time to have bumped up against more of these exceptional CXOs—but then what does that say about corporate leadership that you could spend ten years working and not encounter lots of great leaders?

Anyway, I took away two things from this vision of leadership. One, I want everything I do at work to draw me towards leaders who have creativity, commitment, and skills and away from those that don’t. Two, I want to have experiences that help me develop these same qualities so that I can live up to this vision of leadership when I take the reins at an organization.

So how about you all out there: What do you think about this vision of leadership? Have another one that you think works better? And what about the lack of exceptional leaders at the C-level? Have you had better luck finding them than I have?

As usual, jump in and let’s get the conversation started.

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One Response

  1. I would have to agree with you Joe, leaders with all three qualities at the C-level are a rare breed (creativity being the quality most lacking in my opinion). The quote above also makes an excellent point about “opponents” and their potential to skillfully squash reform. A good leader needs to understand the opposition and work towards getting everyone “on board”.

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