Does the Future belong to “Challenge-Driven Leaders”?

Does the Future belong to “Challenge-Driven Leaders”?

Synergy founder and CEO Kenneth R. Cohen, Ph.D.

This discussion of what makes great healthcare leaders is the next in a series of posts that will appear regularly in this space. Authored by The Synergy Organization’s nationally-recognized founder and CEO Dr. Kenneth R. Cohen, the series reveals insights into executive performance that Ken has gleaned in three decades of executive search service to the healthcare industry.
Ken invites your comments and will share many of them in future articles. You can reach him at

A look at Sam Walker’s WSJ article about the late Sergio Marchionne of Fiat Chrysler

 In my first several posts we looked at findings from three decades of our organization’s research with top healthcare CEOs, as well as a case study that captured our experience with MedStar Health, the largest healthcare provider in Maryland and the Washington, D.C. region.

In this post, we’re going to step outside of the Synergy box and consider Sam Walker’s recent “Human Capital” interview in the Wall Street Journal that provocatively declared that “the future belongs to challenge-driven leaders. [August 11, 2018, p. B-4; (subscription necessary)]

For starters, it’s a great piece and everyone who is interested in what creates and what constitutes “leadership” should read it.

If you’re not familiar with Walker, he is the author of “The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams” (Random House, May 16) and is also WSJ’s deputy editor for enterprise, the unit that oversees the paper’s in-depth page-one features and investigative reporting projects.

Walker wrote that the consensus view of Marchionne, an auto industry legend who died unexpectedly at the age of 66, was that he “possessed an unusual blend of vision, technical expertise, analytical rigor, open mindedness, and candor…(and was) a bona fide eccentric.”

Walker cites a Fall 2017 MIT study that identified “a new subspecies of executives” called “challenge-driven leaders.”

Among other characteristics of this group, according to the MIT researchers, is that its members have “little interest in the “trappings of power and loath(ed) leaders who took a top-down, order giving egotistical approach.”

The study also suggested that members of this new subspecies were “less apt to focus on the social and emotional needs of their followers, but more inclined to tolerate their idiosyncrasies.”

Walker suggests that challenge-driven leadership “may be an excellent way for startups to innovate,” but admits that he is not so sure that this style “can be scaled up.”

Members of this leadership subspecies are “not always conventional, predictable, or polished—but they’re undoubtedly self-reliant.” And, he adds, “their satisfaction comes from indulging their own curiosity.”

My take-away from Walker’s piece is that it actually supports our conclusion here at Synergy that executive leadership searches are definitely NOT a “one size fits all” exercise. What works in one situation doesn’t necessarily come close in a different situation.

That’s why our proprietary Synergy Screening System® has been designed to objectively evaluate the overall match of prospective candidates against a position’s unique needs. Back this up with our targeted behaviorally-based candidate interviews, and the results are going to be as good as you can get!

But check out Walker’s piece and draw your own conclusions. Whatever you decide, it’s an article worth reading (even if you have to subscribe to get access).

That’s it for now. I hope you’ll stay with us in the weeks ahead as we continue to look at what makes top executives successful./s/ Ken

Don’t miss Ken’s next post in which he will ____________________________.


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