Over 10 years ago (and probably long before that) a paradigm of leadership different from the top-down approach started to surface: as highly educated and skilled people increasingly constitute the workforce , leaders must learn to lead leaders, not just followers.  As much as I’ve been a slow learner, it appears I’m not alone.  It wasn’t until this month’s Harvard Business Review that I discovered one root cause: most senior leaders, including board members, actually don’t appear to encourage, incentivize or even model the right kind of leadership needed today, and they don’t hire it.

Described in What Great CEOs Do Differently by the CEO Genome Project (HBR May/June 2017) are 4 behaviors of the most successful CEOs: 1) deciding with speed and conviction, 2) engaging for impact, 3) adapting proactively, and 4) delivering reliably.   In other words: set a course and believe in it, inspire and engage others, continuously learn, improve and renew, and deliver results consistently.

The article doesn’t really describe the genome, but rather gene expression.  They do mention in passing a few “genes” such as, “…while boards often gravitate to charismatic extroverts, introverts are more likely to exceed expectations…”

Mistakes boards make are because they focus on the downstream impact of gene expression.  Nearly all successful CEOs in this study had made rather significant mistakes in the past. Yet, boards and others who choose leaders shy away from anyone who’s made a large mistake.   High confidence improves the likelihood of a person being hired, but makes no difference in whether they’re successful or not (an example of focusing on the wrong gene expression).

There are a few more genes that others have pointed out that are supported by the CEO Genome project: 1) focusing on something bigger than themselves, and sacrificing themselves to that vision, 2) humility, and 3) …you guessed it… the ability to lead leaders, although this may not be the gene, just the expression.

The ability to inspire people who are leaders, especially those with a suboptimal leadership gene expression profile, eludes many of us.  Is it emotional intelligence?  No, a lot of good leaders have that.  I think it’s more fundamental than that.   I think its mindfulness or openness.  Mindfulness allows one to achieve a certain level of awareness, acceptance, humble inquiry, honest reflection, and caring with a sense of service.  It used to be called taking the higher road, calling it mindfulness begins to describe how to get there.