Four For Friday (28)

This week, we have interesting ones on leadership even though much more is written about business leadership than political leadership or personal leadership.

In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, many questions about leadership, complicity and honesty are being asked. Research conducted over two years by a leadership consultancy finds a link between virtuosity and business success.

To determine how to rate character, Fred Kiel, KRW’s founder, and his team of researchers combed through a list of 500 behaviors and traits from a classic study of anthropology to boil it down to four universal principles:

  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Forgiveness
  • Compassion

Says Kiel, “Someone with high integrity but low responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion scores would probably spend all their time micromanaging and would fail to engage the workforce. Integrity isn’t enough, and neither are any of the other three traits on their own. You need all four to achieve virtuosity.”

The timeliness of the publication of these results aside, it is hard to not think of business leaders, who have been wildly successful and who definitely didn’t meet all these criteria for virtuosity. The explanation for that lies perhaps in that we do not stop to ask these questions when things are going well, with businesses returning huge gains to shareholders – individual and institutional alike, gaining market share, producing category busting innovation. Steve Jobs? Or Fred Goodwin till his fall came? The converse is also true. The moment we sense all these qualities in someone we start to look for chinks in the person’s armour as if inherent goodness is somehow hiding something. Leadership exists on a broader societal context. I hope to find more readings that take that into account.

Recent academic research finds that CEOs with female children run more socially responsible firms. Of the two lead researchers, one has no children and the other has a son.

Controlling for other factors, companies run by executives with female children rated higher on the measures of diversity, employee relations, and environmental stewardship tracked by the CSR research and analytics group KLD from 1992 to 2012. We also saw a smaller but still meaningful link with the provision of products and services that are more socially responsible. And having daughters coincided with spending significantly more net income on CSR than the median. That female influence does appear to affect the decisions these executives make, which translates into shifted priorities for their organizations.

Just having the treatment (a daughter) mattered much more than the dosage (the number of daughters).

Unfortunately, our sample of female CEOs—14 out of the 379 executives for which we could collect data—was too small to draw any firm conclusions. But the companies they led did have much stronger CSR ratings in every KLD-tracked category—not only diversity, employee relations, environment, and product, but also human rights and community. We suspect that a CEO’s own gender matters even more than the gender of his or her children.

This is fascinating on many counts. Not least because “female influence” on decision-making of and by male and female leaders.The influence of sisters was not studied while the influence of female spouses may not be significant, per the researchers.

Finding out whether they had a sister or not might have been impossible, though it would be interesting to test that one out. As for spouses, we didn’t look at that factor specifically, but given that most of the male CEOs with sons had wives and that sons had no effect on CSR ratings, we would guess that wives don’t matter as much for this issue.

Dealing with uncertainty is part of every leader’s job description and here are some tips — eleven actually — on how to deal with it. Read the whole thing because I have excerpted a small portion.

They embrace that which they can’t control

We all like to be in control. After all, people who feel like they’re at the mercy of their surroundings never get anywhere in life. But this desire for control can backfire when you see everything that you can’t control or don’t know as a personal failure. People who excel at managing uncertainty aren’t afraid to acknowledge what’s causing it.

Finally some wisdom from the wonderful researcher Herminia Ibarra, on how to act like a leader. Some excerpts below but read the whole thing. And the book.

“That when you are faced with a new role that’s very different from anything you have done before, you can’t think your way into it. You have to experiment and act your way into it.”

“I call it the difference between the ‘insight’ and ‘outsight’ approach,” she says. “Outsight is about the external perspective. It’s about seeing things differently because you have expanded the activities you are involved in and the people you interact with. It gives you fresh stuff, instead of rehashing the old.”

“Being a bridge means you are a boundary spanner as opposed to staying in your silo,” explains Ibarra.

“Moving towards a more skilled version of yourself as a leader feels fake at first as you try to be more people orientated, or more emphatic or to listen more… It might not be who you are, but it’s the only way you are going to learn.”