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Executive Development and the Romance of Leadership

25 years ago, James Meindl and Sanford Ehrlich published a paper on “the romance of leadership,” our persistent and often irrational infatuation with leaders.  Even today as organizations grow flatter and the Wall Street Journal mourns The End of Management, our perception of leaders has not changed all that much.  You can still count on bosses to get too much credit when things go right and too much blame when they don’t.

Bob Sutton, a management professor at Stanford, argues that leadership style has ripple effects through an organization.  Whether a leader realizes it or not, behavior at the top tends to be carefully observed and mimicked by others in the organization. This can be especially problematic when there is disconnect between how bosses perceive themselves and how others perceive them.

Sutton recounts a time when an especially assertive VP was asked to spend 20 minutes brainstorming with five direct reports about potential new products.  After the exercise, Sutton asked the VP to estimate his contribution to the discussion.

The VP recalled:

    • making 25% of the comments
    • interrupting others 3 times
    • being interrupted 3-4 times


Sutton’s tallies had the VP:

  • making 65% of the comments
  • interrupting others 20 times
  • being interrupted 0 times

When asked to estimate these figures with the VP out of the room, the five direct reports did so accurately.

Every leader has strengths and weaknesses, but self-awareness is the single most important trait for an effective leader.  A self-aware leader can anticipate how a particular weakness may create problems, compensating by retaining the right people and resources.

Whether you are developing leaders within an organization or considering a new hire, look to those self-perceptions as key indicators for performance.  Effective leaders aren’t just those who drive hard toward organizational goals; they’re the ones with a deep understanding of what it’s like to work for them.

We hope you’ll join us for a complimentary seminar on October 14 with guest speaker Bonnie Stoufer, Ph.D., Vice President of Talent Stewardship, Leadership Development and Learning for Ascension Health.  RSVP online.

CMA offers services including Talent Assessment and Development, Coaching, 360s, employee engagement surveys, and our Leadership Advantage program for companies operating both domestically and internationally.  For more information, contact Dan Bean or Joe Hoffman, or visit us on the web at