The strengths and weaknesses of a superhero CEO

Mark Loftus for The European

Building purpose into a business is an admirable ambition. But these ‘heroic’ leaders still have weaknesses to balance out their strengths. During ten years as Unilever CEO, Paul Polman became highly regarded as a corporate change champion, encouraging the firm to adapt its thinking and give back. (CEO strengths and weaknesses)

When revealed he would leave in 2018, chairman Marijn Dekkers called him “one of the most far-sighted business leaders of his generation” for redefining responsible capitalism. As someone who’s professionally analysed and coached leaders for over 20 years, Mr Polman’s recent reference to so-called “heroic chief executives” struck a chord with me.

Are those people really protecting the defenceless once they leave the office, charging around in masks and capes? Well, yes and no.

Discussing inequality and climate change, Mr Polman said: “The fact we are having these issues of populism and schisms in society is exactly because we are not addressing the underlying issue to evolve capitalism and make sure it works for everybody. [We need] heroic chief executives willing to step up and move outside of the comfort zone and take personal risks. I tried to do the same with Unilever.

It’s a matter of willpower.” Bruce Wayne – or Batman – is a prime example of a hero driven by an unwavering energy to use his wealth and intelligence for good. But who are some of the real-world examples of “heroic chief executives” Mt Polman has referred to? And, given every hero has a flaw, how can they manage their weaknesses?

Richard Branson

Richard Branson’s Virgin empire has spanned everything from music to space. In 2004 he launched Virgin Unite, a charitable foundation funded directly by the business and Mr Branson. (CEO strengths and weaknesses)

To read the piece in full on the The European website click here and go to page 48.

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