What is Good Leadership?

By: Richard Berger

With Donald Trump retaining a sizeable lead among GOP candidates and a string of verbal missteps left in his wake, it leaves one wondering, “Just what do people want in a leader?”

The question of leadership style has been recently addressed in the business pages as well, and it’s easy to see parallels between Trump’s brusqueness and the corporate culture at Amazon highlighted in a recent New York Times cover story.  Some would argue that the approach taken by Jeff Bezos of Amazon is too harsh. But given his enterprise’s success, perhaps there is some merit to his “articles of faith” that demand excellence, candor and unerring commitment.

Starbucks leader Howard Schultz has a different approach to leadership, both in politics and in the corporation, and shared his thoughts in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times.  Praising the “servant leadership” of Pope Francis, he implores his readers to demand a leader who focuses on uniting different views, who is humble and grateful for the chance to lead. A stark contrast, he believes, to the pool of current presidential candidates. And, one imagines he also believes, to the culture at Starbucks’ Seattle neighbors.

Schultz also opined on the recent financial market volatility in a memo to all “partner” employees, imploring them to remain focused on the company’s long-term growth and success that he attributes directly back to them. Certainly his efforts to continually stay connected, dignify and praise his employees have defined his leadership style and solidified his success.

Having partnered with dozens of CEOs from both public companies and private firms over the span of my career, I would argue that any good leader requires a balance of intelligence, empathy, good communication, and the self-awareness and confidence to make tough decisions. It’s not enough to have a solid grasp of your business; you need to understand what motivates people, when to empower them and when to temper your actions and words.

Ultimately, leadership is not the same as popularity. History tells us repeatedly that those who have succeeded in driving monumental change weren’t always appreciated in the moment. Whether you like The Donald or not, agree with Bezos or want to emulate Schultz, assumptions about leadership are being challenged.