Subject: Business    / General Business

You are required to carry out a study of a Business Leader, answering the questions below. You may base your study on one of the leaders portrayed in this Case Study or you may select a leader of your choice. Observe and note their leadership style, their traits and various attributes. Please select a leader who is successful and consider how their skills and attributes counted toward their success.


A study of Fortune 500 companies was undertaken to determine what distinguished companies that went ‘from good to great’ from those that just stayed at ‘good’ or ‘mediocre’. The research staff were instructed to downplay the role of the top leaders in the organisation to avoid the trap of ‘credit the leader’ or ‘blame the leader’. The research team found that in the 11 companies identified as the great ones, the top executives couldn’t be ignored. There was something unusual about them.

Each of these leaders displayed what at first could appear to be contradictory characteristics: they were humble, but wilful. The leaders who were driven by ego never brought their companies to greatness. There might be a few legendary moments of success, but greatness always eluded them. Ego was not a part of the style of the ‘great’ leaders. Many of them are people that are not household names, which is testimony to their humility and absence of publicity seeking and self-promotion. ‘Quiet achievers’, they might be called.

When Darwin Smith took over Kimberly-Clark it was an out-of-date paper company whose stock had fallen 36%. Smith was a mild-mannered in-house lawyer, not a self-promoting executive on the rise. In his 20 years at the helm of Kimberly-Clark, he turned the company into the leading consumer paper products company of the world with stock value over four times greater than that of the general market. Smith was a shy, unpretentious man who shunned attention. His humility did not mean that he was a pushover, his fierce resolve toward life and business led him to make sound and, at times, dramatic business decisions that turned the company around. Smith, like the other 10 great leaders, made decisions that were in the best interests of the enduring success of the company (at times at the expense of personal gain); relied on principles and standards, not charisma, to motivate people; and channelled their ambition into what was best for the company not what was best for their personal career.

Andy Pearson, known for being one of the ten toughest and most aggressive managers in America when he was CEO at PepsiCo, has transformed his leadership style to one of personal humility and employee recognition. For years he seemed to operate with the assumption that to give recognition to an employee was a sign of weakness and would make the employee less motivated to work harder. If someone exceeded a sales target by 10% he’d asked them why it was not 15%. At the end of each year he’d fire the least productive 10-20% of his workforce. When he became CEO of Tricon Global Restaurants (he left this position in January 2001) he found himself in a culture where the common worker was elevated. People were given genuine recognition for their achievements and he saw that this brought out the emotional drive and commitment that is usually at the heart of good work. Pearson built on this culture, departing radically from his former style of managing. The result was an increase in operating profit by 32%, a reduction of debt by 50% and employees so keen to serve the customer that they now call themselves ‘customer maniacs’.

Humility and compassion in business do not mean that accountability, toughness and hard decisions have gone out the window. Every executive highlighted in the source articles were adamant about the need to be tough, but not tough minded, to maintain high standards and productivity and to make hard decisions like firing, disciplining or moving people when it was in the best interests of the business. The difference is, with the ‘great’ leaders, the tough decisions, blunt comments and admonitions are more likely to be accepted by staff. This is because the leaders have proven their actions are based on sound business decisions rather than politically ego driven agendas to advance the reputation of the leader.

SOURCES: Collins, J., ‘Level 5 Leadership’, Harvard Business Review, January 2001, pp 67-76; and Dorsey, D., ‘Andy Pearson Finds Love’,

Please answer the following questions:

Why do you think humility and compassion are proving to be such important ingredients in leadership?
Do you see any potential dangers in leadership driven by humility and compassion? Explain your rationale.
What methods do you think your chosen leader has used to ensure that the goals and objectives of the organisation are fully understood by everyone connected with the organisation?
Explain the importance that your leader would have placed on the reporting of incidents and how the results of these reports and subsequent investigations would have been communicated.
How has your chosen leader built trust, confidence and respect with a diverse range of people using inclusion, positive role modelling and effective communication and consultation?
Do you think organisational policy and decision making in the organization, in general, has been done in the interests of legal compliance, the interests of internal and external interests, community groups or the society at large?
Has the attitude of the organization been clearly communicated through effective, ethical public relations?
Has your leader demonstrated exemplary personal conduct and performance and if so what have been the results of this? Explain if your leader could have done better in this regard?

What has been your chosen leader’s approach to developing teams, assigning responsibilities, getting the best out of people and creating a positive working environment?
How has your leader demonstrated personal qualities that are indicative of good managerial performance?
Has your leader handled problems and any conflict in a professional and empathetic manner?

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