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I recently had the great fortune to speak with Rajeev Peshawaria, author of Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders. I wanted to learn more about his views on leadership and how companies ultimately benefit from great leaders. The following is a lightly edited version of part of our conversation. Click here and here to read the other two parts of our conversation.
Jason Moser: Let's look at a specific example of a corporate leader who saw his fortunes change over time. Former Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) CEO Michael Eisner was considered a great leader in his first half of tenure at Disney as the CEO, but then it seemed as he went into the second half of his career, he was vilified. Do you think that Michael Eisner as a leader was overrated or underrated? Or do you think that ... great leaders can start out great and lose their touch along the way?
Rajeev Peshawaria: Oh, we see that all the time. A lot of people start out as great leaders and then they lose their way. Once you become an enterprise leader like a CEO, the key thing that people have to do is make what I call the "I-to-we" transition. A lot of people are either never able to make that transition, and therefore their careers derail because they can never stop doing. They want to produce results themselves rather than creating conditions for other people's success.
Or we have seen the other type as well, who actually make a successful transition from "I to we," but somewhere down the line, they get self-obsessed again. That is when it starts going downhill. A classic example of that from the old days is Lee Iacocca. In the first half of his tenure as CEO, the Chrysler stock went up and up and up. That's when he got self-obsessed and started dreaming about running for president and things like that, and when he starred in 70 commercials himself, he started going down. My guess is at that point in time he became self-obsessed again. So it can happen at any time.
Moser: Now, have you spoken with Tom Gardner, our CEO here at The Motley Fool?
Moser: In your talking with Tom, how do you think that he can get better? How can he become a better CEO?
Peshawaria: I think he just needs to continue to do what he is doing and keep the communication lines open, continue to reflect like he does about his own behavior, and maintain the humility that he has. It was so enjoyable meeting him, and I wrote about him because there was no arrogance about him. He was all ears. He wanted to listen. I think he has this attitude that he can learn from everybody and he should learn something every day, so I would just say don't forget what he stands for right now.
Moser: I just want to throw a few names out at you and if you could give me a couple of sentences on your impression of them as leaders. I'll start with Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) .
Peshawaria: I think he is an amazing leader. Anybody who can close their eyes and imagine a better future, in this case to revolutionize reading and develop a purpose like "I want every book ever published to be in anybody's hands anywhere in the world in 60 seconds or less," is amazing. And somebody who has the courage to give up a million-dollar job in his 20s to go and chase that dream, I think that itself makes him a phenomenal leader.
Moser: Next is Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook.
Peshawaria: I know less about Mark's qualities as a leader, but again, from the ability of being able to imagine a better future, he has the ability to dream something that people would have initially never thought possible. But I haven't studied his values, which is the other pride of leadership in my book, but from a purpose standpoint, absolutely.
Moser: How about President Barack Obama?
Peshawaria: President Barack Obama I think is definitely a leader. I think he articulated a pretty strong vision, which is what everybody bought into. He certainly knew how to connect with people. One quality of a leader is to be able to build a deep bond with others, build a trust-based bond with others, and I think he captured the imagination of the nation. He came from nowhere and sounded humble and sounded honest and built that bond, painted a picture for the country and for the world which people could buy into, and for the most part I think he has demonstrated the values that he talked about, so I would rate him highly as a leader. He is a leader of the free world in probably the most difficult of times in recent history, but in terms of leadership qualities, I would rate him high.
Peshawaria: Steve Kerr, oh my God. I have not come across a better leader than Steve Kerr. I have had the good fortune of working for him directly, and I don't know anybody else that motivates people or energizes people as much as he does, and the way he does that is amazing. He just places a whole lot of trust in you until proven otherwise. You just don't want to let him down because he has given you so much trust, and he expects so much from you. You want to work hard for him.
Moser: Lastly, this is probably the most difficult of all, but it is going to require a little bit of self-reflection here: Rajeev Peshawaria, tell us what type of leader are you?
Peshawaria: (Laughs) Well, I am a student of leadership, and I try to practice what I preach as much as I can. I will not comment on my own qualities of a leader, but I will say one thing: having lived in India, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Austria, the U.K., and the U.S., I haven't changed my leadership style one bit.