We don't need another hero

When you’re the one in charge, it’s natural to compare your leadership style with the models of the masters. There are plenty of paragons. The question is, which should you emulate?

The transformational leadership model worked well in an emerging industry. Henry Ford and Benjamin Goodrich pioneered their industries and led their companies to the Promised Land, transforming society along the way. Leaders like Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., exemplified the transactional leadership style, focusing keenly on efficiency and transaction costs to drive GE to the top.

But that was then, and this is now.

You’re competing in a global, technological business arena where the clock ticks faster than time itself. Decisions must be made in a nanosecond, with minimal information. You can’t be everywhere at all times to single-handedly define and fix every problem.

To drive your company to success, you must adopt a horizontal leadership style in which you instill self-confidence in every employee so they can help steer the ship.

“The megatrend of Internet technology and global competitiveness calls for a boundary spanning, 21st century CEO who can coach and nurture the bottom-up planners in an organization, rather than controlling everything and everyone around them,” says Ray Gehani, assistant professor of management and international business at The University of Akron’s College of Business Administration.

Horizontal leaders get things done by leveraging the expertise of everyone around them, from the bottom up, Gehani explains. He points to Andy Grove, co-founder and chairman of Intel Corp.; Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp.; and Sam Gibrara, chairman and CEO of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

As an authority on international business, Gehani was recently asked to teach a comprehensive MBA leadership class at the university. The goal was to effect a strategic cultural change in leadership during a 10-week curriculum.

Rather than focusing on political, social, military and other types of leadership styles (considering the disparities in the goals, accountability, ethics and stakeholders applicable to each), Gehani emphasized these alternate business and corporate management styles.

In addition to scrutinizing the leadership styles of CEOs at some 50 top companies, Gehani’s class invited Goodyear’s Gibrara to share his personal leadership strategies.

“Gibrara explained that he tries to instill self-confidence in every employee, so each has the confidence to act as a self leader and make wise decisions quickly. But to do that requires success stories,” Gehani says. “So first, they must all share a vision, and set goals.”

In Goodyear’s case, the goal was to reduce costs and become No. 1 again. Today, Goodyear holds the largest market share of the world’s tire industry and is the world’s largest producer of conveyor belting.

Despite your company’s size, says Gehani, CEOs should apply Gibrara’s horizontal leadership style, nurturing each employee to become a self-leader so that, collectively, these bottom-up planners can help drive your company to success.

“If you can instill that self-confidence in them, you can motivate them to become action oriented,” he says. “They will set a goal, achieve that goal, celebrate that goal, become more confident and create more success stories for your company.”

How to reach: The University of Akron, College of Business Administration, (330) 972-7043