Winning with Wise Leadership

We often adore and reward the powerful, impressive leaders while those quietly toiling and continually producing solid results remain unnoticed. I’d like to highlight Ellen Kullman, CEO and Chair of the Board of DuPont as an excellent example of a wise leader who doesn’t find it necessary to flaunt achievements on the media’s center stage.

The seminal research of Dr. Fred Luthans from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the mid-1980s is a good backdrop for this discussion. Dr. Luthans showed that the most effective managers spent the largest portion of their time communicating with their team, ensuring all members are aware of goals, current status, what is expected of them, etc. and on human resource (HR) management. He compared the effective manager results with those of “successful” managers, those who rose quickly in the hierarchy of their organization, who spent the largest portion of their time networking with individuals outside their team. Managers who were assessed as both effective and successful had a good balance of communication, HR, networking, and traditional management activity.

This compares well with the results of leadership studies by the author of Good to Great, Jim Collins. According to him, the highest level of leadership, Level 5, involves “personal humility and professional will.” In describing leaders who propel companies to consistent profits he often refers to their humility and somewhat dichotomous will to press forward with bold initiatives that at times seem premature and perhaps foolish.

Circling back to Ellen Kullman, she became CEO of DuPont at the beginning of 2009 as the latest recession was well along its precipitous slide. Ms. Kullman’s consistently pragmatic and visionary approach has yielded steady growth for DuPont. She communicates clearly and often, articulating aggressive goals, while maintaining a healthy ego. She has eschewed some of the corporate perks, such as the use of corporate jets for personal travel and listens intently to all with whom she interacts.

We could all do well listening and watching wise leaders such as Ellen Kullman, learning lessons in content, quality, and style of leadership.

• Look for leaders in your organization consistently churning out new products, services, and innovations without heroics or grandstanding

Keywords: leadership, communication, goals

• Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap. and others don’t. New York: Collins.
• Collins, J. (2001). Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review, 83(7/8), 136-146.
• Luthans, F. (1988). Successful vs. effective real managers. Academy of Management Executive, 2(2), 127-132.
• Luthans, F., Hodgetts, R. M., & Rosenkrantz, S. A. (1988). Real managers. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
• Luthans, F., Rosenkrantz, S. A., & Hennessey, H. W. (1985). What do successful managers really do? An observation study of managerial activities. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 21(3), 255-270.

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