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What makes a good C.E.O.

I have been a student of leadership since my salt mine days as university faculty. I’ve seen a lot of good and bad ideas come and go, but the research shows that there’s really no such thing as a personality type all great leaders are made of. Extroverts, introverts, highly charismatic, unassuming — great leaders in business and other endeavors span the entire gamut of human types.

For that reason, the only substantial discussions of leadership, like Jim Collins bazillion bestseller, find great leadership in purely pragmatic terms. Which is why today’s New York Times has a must-read, beautifully polished gem on CEO leadership by Polk Laffoon IV occupying a few square inches on the New York Times letter section but worth weeks of any paper’s business section.

After 17 years as an investor relations officer for Taft Broadcasting in Cincinnati and Knight Ridder in San Jose, I concluded that successful chief executives combine four abilities:

¶The ability to allocate cash flow for growth. Without growth, little else matters.

¶The ability to pick the right managers for the operating jobs. C.E.O. “vision” is largely realized through the people in the critical posts.

¶The ability to inspire the troops. Charisma comes in many colors; getting others to be excited about the mission is one of them.

¶The ability to be aware of and understand all the moving parts. Chief executives don’t need in-depth knowledge of every discipline — accounting, marketing, sales, benefits, taxes and so on — but they need to know enough about each one to ask the right questions.

None of these four are easy, and in combination, they are very hard to find.

Like “Hamlet in One Minute,” this is all we know about business leadership and all you need to know. I could spend the next fifty paragraphs delving into this richness, but that would spoil it.

Print it. Paste it on your computer monitor. Even if you’re a one-person, shoestring, bootstrapping at-home outfit, it tells you where the journey needs to take you.

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