Common Leadership Characteristics Among Highly Effective Printer CEOs
When NAPL’s Printing Economic Research Center (PERC) began tracking results of privately held printing companies, a great deal of data was collected, analyzed, and compared. Led by Chief Economist Andrew Paparozzi, the PERC team began to look for patterns of performance over extended periods of time. Through a strict process, they made a stunning discovery.
A select group of companies outperformed the rest of the industry by a significant margin in key metrics including organic sales growth, value-added, and profitability. And they did so consistently over more than many years.
These leading companies were not a particular size in terms of sales volume or head count. They weren’t located in one area of the country nor were they concentrated in one type of product or service specialization. What then is the common thread that enabled these businesses to perform at such a high level, consistently and for so many years?
In an attempt to answer this question, a comprehensive research project was undertaken with a special focus on the leadership characteristics of the CEOs of these high-performing companies. While this study was conducted as part of a doctoral dissertation, it became far more than an academic exercise.
The baseline comparative was based on James McGregor Burns’ theory of leadership, which is centered around three distinct leadership styles: Transformative, Transactional, and Passive-Avoidant (L’aissez-Faire). A brief description of each style follows.
Passive-Avoidant is considered the least effective style of leadership, evidenced by leaders who interact with their reports only when there is an obvious problem or serious issue/mistake. It focuses on punitive, often embarrassing measures, as corrective action.
Transactional leadership can be an effective style but in a somewhat limited way. It assumes that leadership is based on a quid pro quo; that is, people work for remuneration and should expect nothing more. The working relationship is based on the idea that work is done, compensation is provided. Simple.
Transformational leadership is considered as effective as it is rare. This style of leadership is focused on getting organizational results by maximizing the potential and unique ability of each and every team member. The leader is seen as a facilitator, educator, coach, and mentor. Team members working with a transformational leader report high levels of personal and professional satisfaction and tend to contribute to significant organizational success in ways that are specific, measurable, and reflective of their individual contribution.
The construct of the study included use of three survey instruments: Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ), Communicator Competence Questionnaire (CCQ), and Leader-Member Exchange (LMX). Each survey was completed by the CEO and by five members of the leadership team (all direct reports of the CEO). The direct report survey results were clustered and compared as a group to the individual response of the CEO. Comprehensive interviews were conducted with a sample of the CEO group.
Here’s what we learned. The overwhelming majority of CEOs participating in the study rated their leadership style as transformative. Not a surprise; these are confident, self-awarding individuals. However, what we did not expect to find is that the majority of the direct report groups (the CEO’s management team) also rated their CEO’s leadership style as transformative.
Is it coincidence that where there is a transformative style of leadership (recognized by the CEO and by their direct reports), organizational performance significantly exceeds that of industry norms and over a long period of time? If not, what are the specific behavioral traits, beliefs and characteristics of these transformative leaders? Can they be taught, learned, practiced, and improved by anyone willing to better understand and improve their own leadership behaviors/style?
Over the coming weeks, we’ll examine these traits and how they may be operationalized to enhance organizational success.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.