By Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. • March 18, 2012

Leadership and Vision

I want to expound on an excellent blog post from my colleague, Michael Koploy at Software Advice titled, "The 5 Best (and Worst) Tech Execs of all Time." Michael thoughtfully selected and analyzed the top 5 and bottom 5 recent CEO’s in the technology sector. Check out his excellent piece here.
I wanted to add on to Michael's compelling analysis, because from a leadership competency perspective, the question hollers - along what key leadership dimension/s do these leaders diverge so significantly?

When looking at the various CEO’s on Michael’s list, I believe the most compelling reason why Jobs, Gates, Zuckerburg, Schmidt and Hurd made the top 5 was a result of their abilities to create and sell a vision that could subsequently serve as a launching pad for strategy. Steve Jobs understood and conveyed with sharp clarity Apple’s core identity and values, or brand. As a result, he was able to leverage his passionate dedication to Apple’s brand to map out a clear strategy for how Apple would impact the world. Similarly with Zuckerberg at Facebook, who’s mission is to “Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” and Eric Schmidt (former CEO) at Google, who’s mission is “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”

CEO’s on the bottom list were or are unable to formulate a compelling and enduring vision or strategy. Microsoft seems to be in a chronic catch-up-and-copy-the-competition mode because it’s unclear what they stand for in an era where everyone has a computer (in contrast to when Bill Gates was CEO). Interestingly, Leo Apotheker, the former CEO of HP, tried to drive a very bold strategy, but because his vision was so unclear, nobody had confidence in executing his strategy and in effect, HP confused everyone from employee - to Wall Street - to consumer.

To recap, the key differentiator between the top 5 and bottom 5 CEO’s is an uncanny ability to establish a vision and leverage that vision as a launchpad for strategy and execution.

So what are the leadership development takeaways?

  1. Vision is paramount. Do not de-prioritize vision in favor of operations, sales, marketing, etc. Take the time to reflect, learn and identify the purpose and core values that you and your company stand for. If your not happy with it, reformulate it!
  2. Don’t begin creating strategy without a clear vision or your will be building a skyscraper without a foundation.
  3. Once you are clear on your vision, OWN IT! If you don’t own it and believe in it, others will pick up on this, and it will impact the motivation and behavior of your employees and ultimately your customers.

Lastly, check out Steve Jobs' incredible speech to Apple employees in 1997 on vision and core values.