The Leadership Paradox

What qualities make one person a business tycoon and another a crook? It boils down to a question of competence.

“What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.”

— Andre Malraux

BCG founder Bruce Henderson never imagined his simple strategy called the BCG Matrix would play a starring role in the movie Wall Street. The main character, Gordon Gekko, ruefully admitted the reason he planned to destroy a company was a line borrowed from Henderson, “because it’s a dog…with different fleas.”

Image for post
Image for post

The New Leadership Matrix

What our discovery boiled down to was that much like Bruce Henderson’s Portfolio Matrix, there is a portfolio matrix for leaders, equipped with similar positive and negative attributes. Every CEO starts out as either as an Ace, Wizard, or Centurion and hopes to rise to the level of stars, the equivalent of Nobel Prize winners in business.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Elizabeth Holmes

The Super Manipulators

Bernie Madoff was a self-made finance whiz, whose star rose so high he was appointed the chairman of the NASDAQ, and pulled down $100 million per year in income from his brokerage — legitimately. Elizabeth Holmes was an engineering student who spoke Mandarin for fun and dropped out of Stanford as a freshman to launch Theranos, a unicorn medical device startup. Super Manipulators like Madoff and Holmes come from backgrounds that suggest accomplishment and fulfilled lives, not the villainy they perpetrated. So where do they go wrong?

Image for post
Image for post
Bernie Madoff

They Are Different Than You And Me

Fitsgerald’s famous line to Hemingway about the rich applies to Super Manipulators. Their ambition is extraordinary and they will be ruthless in going after whatever goal their scheming mind creates. The problem is they usually lack extraordinary talent, and when they fail, they lack the patience necessary to overcome the setback. Before the world discovers they are imposters, they cover themselves with an iron-willed determination that impresses the folks watching from the bleachers, like journalists and investors. From that perspective, they seem more like shamans than con artists.

Doubting Your Grandchild

The problem is it can be downright hard to tell them apart. Someone as capable as Theranos board member and former Secretary of State George Schultz rebuked his grandson for doubting Holmes — at a time the grandson worked in the lab! When the young man challenged Holmes, Theranos took him to court and his father had to take a second mortgage to pay legal bills. When super manipulators have power and money are on their side, they stop at nothing and can be invincible. For a while.

Image for post
Image for post
Former Secretary of State George Schultz with President Ronald Reagan

The 4 Leadership Types Defined

Star

  • Definition: If there were a Nobel Prize for business, the finalists would be here. As golfer Bobby Jones said about Jack Nicklaus: “he plays a game with which I am not familiar.” They have exceptional longevity because they are not replaceable.
  • Best example: Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway. The test of stardom is whether a crisis helps or hurts their reputation. Buffett was the only financial CEO to come out of the Financial Crisis of ’08 with his reputation enhanced.
  • Potential negative: may have a hard time admitting setbacks or dealing with challenges to authority.
  • Potential positive: Buffett is notorious about creating transparency in the face of mistakes.

Ace

  • Definition: Technical genius that can figure out probabilities better than anyone, and we like to say “they cracked the code.” They win games of chance like software, hedge funds, and biopharma, and that’s where you will find them.
  • Best example: Tim Cook, Apple
  • Potential negative: Can be prone to egotism or arrogance due to technical superiority.
  • Potential positive: They realize they are gifted, and they are often transparent and are willing to undergo scrutiny.

Wizard

  • Definition: They are the ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ CEOs, and appear to have near-magical powers to avoid disaster. There is something of the sorcerer in them, possessed by a vision. You will find them in businesses where “feel” is critical, like Hollywood or venture capital.
  • Best example: Elon Musk, Tesla
  • Potential negative: They trust their instincts to the point they may feel infallible. As their style is ‘mysterious’ unethical behavior may be concealed for a time, in some cases tragically so.
  • Potential positive: True wizards build empires based on achievement, not publicity. They don’t crave media attention (e.g., Steve Jobs refusing to let reporters into the iPhone design studio) although unorthodox ways draw the media to them.

Centurion

  • Definition: They are the tortoise in the race. If there is something they don’t know, they will learn. People worship Centurions because no one sacrifices more or works harder or cares more about their people. You will find them running retail and consumer product companies that require more substance than flash.
  • Best example: Mary Winston, Bed Bath and Beyond
  • Potential negative: They may resort to cutting corners if threatened with defeat.
  • Potential positive: they inspire amazing dedication and will teach teams how to lead and achieve lofty goals, as their style demands rapid iteration and delegation.

Author of “Be Somebody — Extraordinary Lives” (published 2021); 2019 Telly Award for Documentary @IconicVoices.tv; ex-publisher @Forbes

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store