Rise of the Celebrity CEO


It’s all over the place: the “famous” CEO grabbing all the headlines on how he created from scratch a whole new way of doing business. Or the “celebrity” CEO who presides over his kingdom and passes ultimate judgment on all those less capable minions that “just don’t get it”; or the “man about town” CEO who is on TV episodes of Entourage and the occasional commercial for some credit card or premier business service; or worse, the CEO as bench warmer at your favorite athletic performance. Every young student of management and leadership must be confused by the mixed messages.

On the one hand, the market elevates the eccentric, dominating, flashy, confident CEO to star status as if those are the required traits for leadership. On the other, the “academics” who study leadership espouse the learning, empathetic, consensus-builder, enthusiastic CEO as the true path to leadership greatness.

The wonderful thing about working in the consulting field is the opportunity to see a variety of companies, at various levels of maturity and with varying levels of success. The opportunity to observe leaders in vivo yields some interesting perspectives on leadership formation.

The resulting image of a leader rarely if ever illustrates the reasons for the person’s attainment of that position. The aptitudes that worked in the person’s favor seem to be replaced with how the person wants to be perceived. The geek wants to be cool. The salesman wants to be cerebral. The process engineer wants to be the visionary. The stronger the transformation the more likely the person is compensating for weaknesses.

The best leaders are easy to spot because they don’t compensate for weaknesses by morphing into something they are not. They surround themselves with others that do the compensating. Listen to the likes of Buffett or Keheller. Or better yet…Steve Jobs.

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