15 June 2009

Leadership Beyond Old Boy´s Networks

In many traditional business cultures, the main criterion for business leadership was the social background as part of the establishment. Business competence - even the ability to read financial statements - was often an afterthought. And, by the way, the social order was led by "alpha males".

Now, we see some disturbing results from this selection of leaders out of the limited pool of the "Old Boy´s Network". Some of these highly praised "leaders" wreaked havoc with their entrusted companies.

Worst examples are Arcandor (Quelle), Constantia Privatbank, Citibank, GM, and more. After the fact it seems obvious that the leadership of these companies lacked management skills, personal integrity, or both.

Now, with a much more harsher business climate, owners and boards of companies need to look out for professional management talent. And they will need to tap into leaders that often do not conform to their "tried and true" stereotypes.

For example, women in boards still amount to less than 10%, here and here. Also, many countries only recruit out of their local networks. Or, they only consider graduates from their own university. In some countries, a key to a successful career still is the affiliation with a political party.

Leadership is not defined by background, color or gender, nor by other traits per se. Leadership is a question of results. In order to tackle the tough decisions of the next years, we need strong leaders that can deliver these results together with their teams.

Therefore, we need a more open minded leader recruitment approach. The criteria must include more than a nicely polished background and blind loyalty. Keys to success include the ability to face reality, the professional experience required for the job and the integrity to serve as an example.

And most likely, the best contenders are not only found within the Old Boy´s Network or Club rooms ....