Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great Leaders Change the Mold!

(image credit)
I stumble onto this on Forbes - The Best Performing CEOs in the World [Infographic] - and I react with a mixture of curiosity and befuddlement.  On the one hand, the scholarly, geeky part of me wants to say: This speaks to the difference between descriptive and inferential statistics.  Above is an example of the first kind, and an example of how accurate but meaningless some descriptive statistics can be.  Inferential statistics probes more deeply into any phenomenon, and works at shedding meaningful light on it, if only imperfectly or incompletely.

On the other hand, the abiding skeptic in me wonders why a respected publication like Forbes would put forth crap like this.  The conclusion at the bottom of the infographic is actually a good one, and is quite well-stated, except why, for goodness sake, is it in fine print?  Perhaps it serves amusement purposes, and in this regard, it is fine, I suppose.  But I worry that more naive managers end up taking such crap to heart.  

Mikal Belicove, writer of the Forbes article, does report on an important study published in Harvard Business Review this year.  I appreciate the fact that the researchers measured only actual performance data, including shareholder returns.  While it is unfortunate that their report cannot be accessed without an HBR subscription, Yahoo! Finance summarizes it nicely - Harvard Business Review Publishes List of the 100 Best CEOs in the World.

What is a CEO to do, in view of this study, this infographic, and these articles?

Besides smiling demurely or laughing heartily, the CEO ought to study conscientiously and reflect regularly on whatever material makes the most sense for him or her.  But the critical part is (a) to think about this material critically, (b) to adapt it accordingly vis-a-vis purpose, style and situation; and (c) to apply it thoughtfully and monitor it carefully.

Any research study, or popular infographic, is just the beginning.  They are trends and aggregates, which must be translated into, or understood according to, what is inevitably unique about each CEO.  Which make that conclusion, in fine print above, all the more compelling:
Great leaders don't worry about fitting into a mold - they just do what they do best and change the mold!
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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