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By Monica E. Oss

December 28, 2010

When I started out in the business world, I was an avid reader of Forbes magazine (when Malcom Forbes was its publisher). I remember an article where he was quoted musing, “An organization can never rise above its leader.” At the time, I totally rejected that premise. My thinking was that a talented group of committed executives can certainly overcome the deficits of a bad CEO and thrive in any market.

Role forward 20 years and I will say, I was wrong. I’ve been a “member” of dozens of organizations (as an employee, a board member, an investor) and consulted with dozens more, and I have come to the same conclusion that Mr. Forbes did those many years before. An organization cannot rise above the capabilities of the person sitting at the top of pyramid. When you look at the CEO, you see the totality of where the organization can go (and I might add that this applies to business unit, departments, and programs within organizations, as well).

How do you know if an executive has the “right stuff” to grow an organization (or some unit of an organization)? Whether they are an asset to the growth of the pyramid or dead weight? One of the best checklists for taking an inventory of leadership skills I’ve found was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. Their “hit list” of leadership competencies includes:

  1. Strategic perspective

  2. Being a quick study

  3. Decisiveness

  4. Change management

  5. Leading employees

  6. Confronting problem employees

  7. Participative management

  8. Building collaborative relationships

  9. Compassion and sensitivity

  10. Putting people at ease

  11. Respect for differences

  12. Taking initiative

  13. Composure

  14. Balance between personal and work life

  15. Self-awareness

  16. Career management

In addition to developing this assessment, their research has found there are also five qualifies that “derail” leaders (from Benchmark Your Leadership): problems with interpersonal relationships; difficulty building and leading a team; difficulty changing or adapting; failure to meet business objectives; and a “too narrow” functional orientation.

Where is your CEO on these characteristics? Answering that question is better predictor of your organization’s (or your program’s) future than any crystal ball.

I would like know what you think of your CEO. Send your appraisal to me at – complete confidentiality guaranteed. . .


Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS

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For more information on leadership, see: Managing Change: The Leader’s Challenge all members 

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