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The Official Baldrige Blog

The Word Is Out and It Starts with "H"

Super CEO

There have been many studies and articles over the years about characteristics of successful CEO's. I tried to summarize some of these characteristics, with a Baldrige spin, in 2013 with A Sense of Comity. Certainly, key characteristics include setting a vision, communicating and listening, and building trust.

A topic that I have not seen discussed over the years is what executives value in their most senior leader. That topic has recently been explored in a survey of more than 1,750 executives in 19 markets worldwide and was summarized in an HBR blog by Leslie Gaines-Ross.  There were three characteristics that were valued most highly. I'll start with numbers two and three. They are visibility and persuasiveness. 81% of global executives believed that their CEO's had to have a visible public profile for their company to be highly regarded.  Furthermore, the CEO must convey the company's story in a convincing manner in both traditional communication vehicles and in digital social media. The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence started emphasizing this latter vehicle for CEO communication in 2013.

The number one attribute that executives value in their CEO is humility. And only one out of four CEO's in the study were described as humble by their executives. However, the study found that highly regarded CEO's were six times as likely to be described as humble than their less highly regarded peers. Why is such value placed on humility? Because humble leaders are believed to demonstrate many of the other important leadership attributes: motivating and empowering employees, developing shared values, and listening well. They build a supportive organizational culture.

These characteristics of humble CEO's are supported by a recent article in the Financial Post (Canada). It quotes a study of 63 companies by Yi Amy Ou, an assistant professor at National University of Singapore’s business school. She reported that organizations led by humble CEO's increased engagement and improved performance throughout the organization. Some additional data on the benefits of a humble CEO from the article:

  • Ego is the culprit of over one-third of all failed business decisions.
  • More than half of businesspeople estimate that egos cost firms between 6 and 15% of their revenues.
  • According to Jim Collins, great leaders possess a rare combination of humility and perseverance.

The Baldrige Quest for Excellence conference on April 12-15, 2015 provides an opportunity to hear from and interact with some role model CEO's, including the four 2014 Baldrige award winners and Katherine Gottlieb from Southcentral Foundation, who will be recognized for her visionary leadership and will be delivering a keynote presentation.

Whether you can join us or not, how is your organization doing on the "H" word?

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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Happy Holidays 2023

We wish everyone a peaceful holiday season--and look forward to launching the 2024 Baldrige Award process next month!


This concept is totally supported by the outcomes of research done from the Montfort College/UNC folks. Baldrige recipient organization's most successful leadership "style" -Servant leadership/ and Good to Great concepts... Makes so much sense, doesn't it?
Harry - Interesting phenomena about CEO's in the "system" called schooling. In the past few months two highly effective CEO/Superintendents -- who each characterized Jim Collins "Good-to-Great" personal qualities -- and each led a Baldrige-awarded School system were abruptly discarded by their school boards. (1) Mary Ellen Elia, whose district (Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa), had received a national Baldrige award…and who ironically, was a recent candidate for National Superintendent-of-the-Year. And (2) in your own backyard, Joshua Starr (Montgomery County MD Public Schools). And when that happens, in the end the "Babies get thrown out with the "Bathtub"-- for the CEO's "trusted vision" you cite was the mental holding space (or "Bathtub") for the supportive processes and practices that keep people throughout the system “afloat” as they perform their daily work. – And which, as a single connected system must safely hold everybody (the children and adults) and everything needed (what they do alone and together in managing learning and teaching) to achieve that purpose… As I've noted on my website, in MCPS, the Baldrige process clearly helped create and operationalize that vision systemwide to that when a new leader came on board he was able to build out and up from it to take them to a new level... but, these two recent cases involving "major" school systems in terms of size and demographics suggest that there's an "improvement" that needs to be addressed if the Baldrige is to fulfill its systemic potential in education. Lew
Lew, Thanks for your comments. The retirement or departure of a CEO is always a challenging time in an organizations. Sustainability of success is always at risk. That is why the Baldrige Criteria emphasize succession planning for senior leaders, to ensure continuity of improvement efforts. In the case of school districts, school boards have the authority and will sometimes go for new directions, outside the current strategy envisioned by the retiring superintendent. As I understand it, that is what happened in the case of Jerry Weast and the Montgomery County Public Schools when they hired Joshua Starr. Hillsborough County Schools never received the Baldrige Award, so I have no knowledge of improvements or changes there.

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