Your CEO Style: Are You Ringo or Keith Moon?

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I just finished reading a New York Times column by David Brooks where he discusses which traits and abilities are most important for a successful CEO. He cites a number of surveys and studies, and they all (at least the ones he cites) seem to generally agree on what it really takes to make it as the head honcho. Somewhat counterintuitively, the best CEOs (that is, the CEOs of the best performing companies) don’t tend to be great visionaries, they don’t tend to be the best communicators, and they don’t tend to be very dynamic. In fact, Brooks says, they tend to be rather…well…dull. But they do share some traits that make them highly effective in the catbird seat.

The most successful CEOs, studies have found, have great attention to detail, are persistent and efficient, and can make and follow through on plans. In other words, they’re the solid performers who are routinely excellent, day after day. They’re not showy, they don’t bask in the spotlight. They simply get the job done.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s not a place for the visionary, for the big thinker, for the maverick. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and not every leader is a CEO (although every good CEO is a leader). The CEOs in these studies tended to run companies that were started by others. The people who started the companies—the true entrepreneurs—were the ones who fought the odds, and who had the big personalities to go along with their big plans. And these people are vital; without them, innovation would stall and, along with it, progress. But they may not make the best CEOs.

It’s the difference between Keith Moon and Ringo Starr. Keith Moon, of course, was the larger-than-life, bombastic, flamboyant drummer for The Who. He was brash, and his drumming style was showy and mesmerizing. Listen to any of the old Who songs like Won’t Get Fooled Again or Baba O’Reilly (or watch the opening credits of any of the CSI shows, all of which use Who songs for their themes), and you’ll see what I mean. Virtually everything he did, on virtually every Who song, was a continuous drum solo. This is big, front and center drumming! Keith was impossible to ignore, as a drummer and as a person. He was a great drummer, but he would have made a lousy CEO. And, for the record, he died of a drug overdose in September 1978 (after having dinner, coincidentally, with Paul and Linda McCartney), at age 32.

Ringo, on the other hand, was not flashy. He loathed drum solos, and in fact recorded only one with the Beatles (it’s at the end of the medley on side 2 of Abbey Road). And even that was at the insistence of his three bandmates. Instead, Ringo analyzed the songs and came up with drum parts that, rather than draw attention to themselves, served the music. That’s not to say they weren’t brilliant (I think he’s one of the most underrated drummers in rock history); they just weren’t self-aggrandizing. Ringo’s personality within the band was methodical and low key—precisely the traits of a successful CEO. John and Paul were the dynamic ones in the group. Ringo was, by comparison…well…a little dull (loveably dull, that is.) But he got the job done. Song after song, album after album, he got the job done. He was a solid performer who was routinely excellent, day after day. And, for the record, he’s still going strong.

Just as there’s a place in the rock world for both Keith Moon and Ringo Starr (who were great friends, by the way), there’s a place in the business world for all kinds of personalities and all kinds of leaders. I know there are people out there who feel they don’t have the big personality it takes to lead a company. They think they need to be Keith Moon. But it’s Ringo Starr—patient, methodical, “dull” Ringo—who continues to enjoy exceptional success.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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