Business leaders don’t care about history.

Whereas political leaders frequently make reference to historical figures, business leaders are much less likely to invoke this kind of history directly. Of course, they know the history of their industry and are clear on what has worked in the past and what hasn’t. Thus, references to historical success formulae (i.e. going for market share in a new category) and historical errors (i.e. not letting foreign competition attack the home market) are common, but references to historical leaders are not. In part, this is because it is the ethos of modern business to always be at the forefront of technological and economic change, and references to historical figures in politics or business would clash with that ethos; in part, this … Read more

For the departing leader, succession is always a struggle.

There are numerous examples in family and founder-led businesses of the person at the top holding on to power for a long time, for too long in the eyes of neutral observers and way past retirement age. This holding on for too long is often a source of frustration for the next generation, as they spend years and years in a holding pattern – without substantial responsibility for the business and unfulfilled, but too committed to leave, playing Prince Charles to the leader’s Queen Elizabeth. Although this is a common state of affairs and has its roots in the psychology of the successful leader, it doesn’t have to be that way. For some leaders, succession is easy: a) because they … Read more

An effective leader does not need to articulate and formalize a legacy.

As concerned as departing leaders generally are about their legacy, quite a few are hesitant or simply unwilling to undertake the effort required to articulate and formulize what their legacy is about. For some, their involvement in day-to-day affairs – until the last day – precludes them from doing any of the kind of reflective work necessary to capture their legacy in writing; for others, their sense of practicality recoils undertaking a structured legacy exercise. If only they work hard enough and forcefully instill their sense of values, so they reason, their legacy will live. The reality is that stories and examples do live on, but policies and norms have a shorter half-life. Once the leader moves on, he or … Read more