R&D Executive Leadership

27 Dec 2010 Sandeep Mehta

I have always been fascinated by the trend to blame and praise business leaders in the USA.  I have often wondered how anyone can justify paying a CEO as much as several hundred engineers.  Here is an excellent blog post by Prof. Sutton of Stanford University.

James Meindl’s research on “the romance of leadership” shows that leaders get far more credit—and blame—than they deserve, largely because, cognitively, it is easier and more emotionally satisfying to treat leadership as the primary cause of performance than to consider the convoluted and often subtle mishmash of factors that actually determine performance differences.

And there is some empirical evidence of the impact leaders have:

…many studies show that for more than 75 percent of employees, dealing with their immediate boss is the most stressful part of the job. Lousy bosses can kill you—literally. A 2009 Swedish study tracking 3,122 men for ten years found that those with bad bosses suffered 20 to 40 percent more heart attacks than those with good bosses.

I have slowly realized that organizations take on the culture of their leaders and behave like them. For example, in many service organization such as legal or management consulting, everyone is driven to become a partner. They do whatever it takes to make themselves look good to the partners – all the while complaining that people are not being rewarded for their skills, but on how they “kiss up to” the partners. Even so, when the become partners, they actually repeat the same behavior…

Linda Hudson, CEO of BAE Systems, got this message after becoming the first female president of General Dynamics. After her first day on the job, a dozen women in her office imitated how she tied her scarf. Hudson realized, “It really was now about me and the context of setting the tone for the organization. That was a lesson I have never forgotten—that as a leader, people are looking at you in a way that you could not have imagined in other roles.” Hudson added that such scrutiny and the consequent responsibility is “something that I think about virtually every day.”

So, what is a leader to do? Here are Prof. Sutton’s suggestions:

  1. Take Control
    1. Express confidence even when you don’t feel it
    2. Don’t Dither
    3. Get and Give Credit
    4. Blame Yourself
  2. Bolster Performance
    1. Provide Psychological Saftey
    2. Shield People
    3. Make Small Gestures
In case you want more, here are many more related posts

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