No-one Wants a Nice Leader

Last Updated Apr 24, 2008 2:33 PM EDT

When it comes to leadership, do nice guys finish last? Are the two mutually exclusive? Professor Jean-Francois Manzoni at business school IMD seems to indicate as much in "Big Ego Leadership".

People want to work for someone who engages employees and listens to their ideas. But Manzoni questions whether there's evidence to suggest a "nice" leader is more effective or appreciated. Indeed, your nice leader, he says, may have trouble prioritising or making hard decisions.

Leaders need to be "organisational architects" who translate the business processes into strategy. They set the culture but must also be able to mobilise stakeholders, within and outside the business, and juggle their often divergent expectations. They may have to make decisions that result in winners and losers.

"All bosses face decisions that are difficult because they involve some degree of uncertainty and/or entail negative consequences for some individuals, hence requiring some degree of self-confidence, independence and personal drive," writes Professor Manzoni.

But decision-making is a fact of life, not just the life of a leader. Do we overplay the importance of the charismatic leader? After all, the idea of the chief executive as 'leader' is pretty new: before it became a byword for red-tape, "management", Drucker-style, described the top brass.

Likewise, our business heroes are not low-key managerial types but brassy bosses, many of whom we only know about thanks to TV. This seems to be the upshot of a survey by software firm Kashflow.

Virgin Group's Richard Branson takes top honours as the entrepreneurs' entrepreneur, with Bill Gates at number two. But the subsequent eight is a scattergun list that includes two of TV's Dragons in third and fourth place, alongside TV empress Oprah Winfrey and ex-Dragon Duncan Bannatyne.
Clearly, there was little consensus: Steve Jobs was in sixth place but that was just 5.4 per cent of the vote. But that still doesn't explain how Ryanair's combative Michael O'Leary, gained more votes than 'Sage of Omaha' Warren Buffett. Nice guys really do finish last.