Ownership vs. Leadership: Leading for success?

 3 common leadership pitfalls of small business owners.


As a management consultant, I frequently talk to CEO’s and business leaders who own their own companies.

Many of these leaders feel the need to focus on financial ownership and their products at the expense of employee and customer leadership.   And many are surprised to learn that there is a direct connection between leadership and revenue growth.

There are many checklists of how to become a leader.  There are also lots of examples of business leaders like Oprah Winfrey or Sheryl Sandberg who have managed to combine business success with an enormous focus on mentoring and service.  Sometimes, it’s important to think about the non-leadership or opposite characteristics to illustrate the point.  Otherwise stated: If you don’t know what the problem is, you can’t fix it.  Here are three that come to mind:

1. Hubris and Leadership

We only need to look at the example of Lance Armstrong and the cycling association to know that “pride goeth before a fall.” [1>

That’s hubris in a nutshell.  Many owners of companies or people who achieve notable success in their field frequently fall victim to a case of extreme self-importance.  Recognizable symptoms of this within business organizations include a lack of willingness to discuss and learn from mistakes and a lack of honesty.

Both of these symptoms over time will create a high turnover rate of both customers and employees.  Look at any company or organization you know where there is a self-important leader at the helm and ask the question:  how many clients would recommend this company and how many employees have stayed there for more than 2 or 3 years?

James D. Robinson III, former chair and CEO of American Express and Founder of RRE Venture, has a Leadership One through Ten list.  Number 6 in the list says,  ” Integrity matters around the clock.  The same goes for humility.

Check arrogance in any job at the door! Beware the illusions of success” [2>

2. Greed and Leadership

Following right on the heels of hubris is greed.  This one is fairly easy to illustrate with numerous lessons of Wall Street and the finance industry.

One of the most sensational is the subject of a new Martin Scorsese film, The Wolf of Wall Street[3>.   If you have the stomach for it, go see this true story of greed at it’s worst.

Many leaders of companies focus on “what’s in it for me?” and on living the “high-life” and they mentor their employees to do the same by example.

This breeds an organization that is based on self-importance vs. collaboration.  It also breeds one that doesn’t develop generosity and acts of kindness.

Observe the messages of the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, winner of the 2013 Time Person of the Year.   The Time article reports that he (the Pope) “told a gathering of his diplomats that he wanted them to identify candidates for bishop in their home countries who are, he said, ‘gentle, patient and merciful, animated by inner poverty’and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life.” [4>


Andrea Cotter
Andrea Cotter
Andrea Cotter is the Founder and President of Virgilio & Cotter, LLC where she focuses on Marketing and Communications Strategies specializing in the Health Care industries. She also teaches C-Suite Leadership in her role as an adjunct faculty member at NYU's School of Professional Studies. In addition to her own company, Andrea has had both a corporate and entrepreneurial career in marketing and communications as a Global Executive at IBM Corporation and as SVP and Chief Communications Officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), followed by a brand consultancy role at Straightline and a partnership in the workplace culture startup CultureTalk. She speaks several languages, including Spanish, Italian and French has done consulting work with clients in Europe, US and Asia.

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