Leadership – Do You Like It Steady or Flashy?

Kris Dunn Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Kris Dunn, Leadership, Succession Planning

Here's a personal question.  When you think about the right personality fit to run a company in the CEO spot, do you like your leader steady or flashy?  I'd define the steady CEO as focused on execution, not PR.  The steady CEO doesn't necessarily look for the limelight or media spotlight, preferring to keep their head down and focused on operational details.

The flashy CEO, on the other hand, seems to live for the media spotlight, and part of the strategy is oftenLars to use the CEO's personality as part of the company brand, especially if they're in growth mode.  While they seem to crave the attention or do well in front of reporters or cameras, just because they're in the media doesn't mean they aren't focused on execution.  Many have accomplished both.

Ed Frauenheim of Workforce recently focused on the alpha CEO personality of Lars Dalgaard of SuccessFactors:

"Although his organization espouses an egalitarian philosophy, Dalgaard clearly comes across as the face of the firm. His central role was captured in the tagline of the conference last year that featured Jack Welch: "Jack pioneered it, Lars advanced it, SuccessFactors delivers it.

Gartner’s Holincheck sees similarities between Dalgaard and Salesforce.com's Benioff, who founded customer relationship management software firm Salesforce.com in 1999 and has made a splash by delivering applications over the Web. Benioff’s "No software" motto helped popularize the break from the traditional approach of installing applications on customer computers, which typically involves higher upfront costs and significant maintenance and upgrade burdens

Both "Benioff and Dalgaard have big egos and strong convictions, Holincheck says. "They use big, outrageous goals to galvanize the troops," he says.

Dalgaard rejects the idea that he’s full of hubris.

"I don’t think I have a big ego at all. I just have strong opinions," he says.

That’s a hard line to swallow completely, coming from a man who has dreamed of becoming the first non-U.S.-born president of the United States. Still, it’s clear Dalgaard tempers his ambition with respect for others. He worries that American business forgets to treat people well and says Danes have learned to lead by persuasion rather than raw power. If he’s got some Viking in him, he’s also got a soft side.

"I can execute harder than anybody—trust me, you cannot keep up with me," Dalgaard says. "But I’m just not trying to be an asshole about it."

As a HR pro who makes purchasing decisions in the field, there's no question that the profile of Lars has shaped my view of SuccessFactors in a positive fashion.  The passion for performance management at SF was evident WAAAAAY back, long before anyone was really talking about Talent Management, and the profile and passion of Lars had a lot to do with that.  So it works for them…

But, of course, CEOs, like any employee, need to play to their strengths.  If someone rises through the ranks based on assassin-like execution capabilities and doesn't want the spotlight, that's OK – it's been proven that a hunger for the spotlight doesn't have to be in place for someone to be successful in the top spot.

You just have to be you.

For my money, the perfect leadership skill set is obviously the individual who has the knowledge, skills and abilities to help their company execute, but also has the communication skills to generate interest and passion from the base – whether they use those communications skills externally, or keep to themselves internally, the key is their ability to do it.  The best leaders I've seen are the ones who have an engaging, yet casual style that generates high levels of trust from the employee base.

What say you?  Is there a perfect style, or does it depend on the company?  How would Lars do at IBM Global or P&G?