Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, is endeared by his employees and Starbucks is clearly an iconic brand. Yet you don’t get the feeling the company would fall apart should he leave tomorrow. I don’t have the same feeling about the companies run by Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.
Thank God the day of the charismatic leader like Chainsaw Al Dunlop and Lee Iaccoca has faded but there are clearly a lot of closet ego-maniac CEOs out there – it usually takes a meltdown, when people aren’t profiting from the person, to reveal this. Jim Collins has done a good job using research that says, over the long run, self-centeredness is not a trait found in leaders of “great” companies.
How do you spot a grounded, authentic leader? Like Schultz, they focus on values and core purpose. Schultz is not a brilliant strategist or cleaver financial engineer. He is a people guy. He focuses on a set of core values that result in management being socially responsible – to employees, to farmers in emerging countries, to all stakeholders.
Humble leaders will stick to their company’s core values even if doing so becomes a competitive disadvantage. What what they are doing is not about them, it’s about the soul of company as reflected in its core values and purpose. These are much bigger things than the leader.
Schultz said, “Anybody can open a coffee shop, the only competive advantage Starbucks has is its relationship with its employees [which he calls ‘partners’]”.
What I appreciate about the times we live in is that only humble, authentic leadership will work if you want a thriving, sustainable organization.