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Does Your Leadership Style Need a Change?

Research shows that a CEO’s personality trickles down through an organization

A report on some new leadership research out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business ends on a sobering note. “Even though CEOs are aware of culture,” Stanford GSB professor Charles O’Reilly says, “the vast majority of them are not particularly good at managing culture.”

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, the cliche goes, and culture apparently never goes hungry: According to a survey O’Reilly conducted, 92 percent of 1,300 executives said “improving their firm’s culture would increase its value.” The implication is that the culture needs improvement, and O’Reilly points to some notable examples of companies that have had dysfunctional, narcissistic leadership, like Theranos and Uber. But you don’t need to be a catastrophically poor leader to have culture issues.

One of the most substantial challenges, O’Reilly has found, is that often the CEO’s temperament is misaligned with the organization’s goals. As he explains: “The intuition is that culture and strategy need to fit, and therefore personality needs to fit as well.” Companies that need to be detail-oriented and cost-conscious, he explains, won’t benefit much from a leader who emphasizes creativity; introverted leaders will have a harder time at places that need to prioritize innovation.

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