Executives are not superheroes, but conductors

The popularity of Superman goes way beyond his allure as a film and comic book character. The image of the all-conquering, all-powerful individual who saves everybody else from the brink of disaster has crossed over into the business world, leading many an aspiring executive to cherish a picture of themselves as the future superman of their organisation.

by IESE Insight
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Yet the image is false and unrealistic - or so says Professor Santiago Alvarez de Mon of the IESE Business School in Spain. In his book "I'm no superman", Alvarez de Mon argues that if executives are to succeed they must abandon any ambitions to become a superman. Once they have, he says, they are better able to deal with reality, with all of its lights and shadows. Alvarez de Mon stresses that we all have fears - fear of losing our jobs, fear of mass delocalisation, fear of change. In other words, everybody feels vulnerable - but if we acknowledge our fears, they can help us to become stronger.

According to Alvarez de Mon, humility is the fundamental quality of an executive. He says that humility allows one to manage success, to rebound after failure, to ask questions and to discover talent. Also important is optimism in order to manage with positive energy, consistency, integrity, curiosity and to have an inquisitive view of reality.

Beyond personal qualities, the book also points out the priorities that should govern an executive's activities. Executives must build a team in which everyone - a diverse staff - believes in a shared project and paddles in the same direction. An executive must know the company's history in order to envision business strategies and manage employees' time well. In other words, executives must be good orchestra conductors who can take a talented group of musicians and make the overall sound harmonious. Their role is to manage interdependent talent.

Other keys to managing with the need to be a superman are having patience and a long-term mindset. It's important to know when to go full-speed ahead and when to recoup. Going back to an idea in his previous book 'The Logic of the Heart', he also champions the idea of making decisions without regard to what in theory we call rationality. Logic and emotion are not adversaries, but should go hand-in-hand, he says.

Source: Santiago Alvarez de Mon
IESE Insight
Review: Nick Loney

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