Is Your Organization Driven by Dynamic Leaders?
by Larraine Segil

Do you want to identify the issues that need to be changed not only in your organization, but in the lives of those around you? Are you willing to make change happen? If so, the challenges you will encounter are real --- but not insurmountable.

The problem is that most people don't want to recognize or accept change. Many organizations tend to ignore the real issues that prevent them from profitable change. As such, today's manager must exhibit a special kind of leadership; he or she cannot avoid or deny the issues that are most difficult. And, this special kind of leadership must exist not just in the person at the top of the organization, but at all levels of management.

Over the past ten years, my work helping clients to develop strong alliances has identified the trickle-down effect of these challenging relationships from CEOs and senior management to middle and evolving managers to supplier and purchasing groups, to all functions of the organization (including sales and marketing, human resources, engineering, research) to a variety of service organizations and functions.

I began to examine what kind of special leadership could be applied to both simple and complex tasks and relationships. Based on my research into more than 250 companies, I have pinpointed the traits these change agent leaders possess ---- what I call The Ten Essential Traits of a Dynamic Leader. These characteristics include:

  • Fearlessness

  • Completion

  • Commitment

  • Inspiration

  • Assuredness

  • Penetration

  • Intelligence

  • Energy

  • Integrity

  • Perception

By taking a closer look at each of the characteristics, you will understand why leaders who embody these traits harness change, treat it as an ally, and use it to their --- and the organization's --- advantage.


A fearless leader has the courage to be first, to be different, to speak out, to act, and to fail. Without fearlessness, no significant progress, innovation or contribution is made.

In March 2001, DaimlerChrysler was in a mess. Jurgen Schrempp, the company's outspoken CEO, had made some unfortunate statements about Daimler's acquisition of Chrysler that caused the morale in the U.S. operations to go down fast. Dieter Zetsche, the new CEO of the U.S. division took immediate and aggressive action. He knew they could no longer pretend that this was a merger of equals. Instead, he bet on honesty and went forward with the takeover. He closed down a number of plants, changed the senior management, inserted some of his own key people, and started to change the culture. He ate in the cafeteria and shared some of his own personal challenges in being away from his family. He was a man comfortable with his own convictions and with a belief in self that carried him through the tough decisions that would affect the lives of many. His willingness to be fearless was tempered by his ability to be "of the people."


Dynamic leaders get things done by collaborating, creating, and managing teams across all organizational functions, often in many locations. They are interested more in seeing results than in protecting a series of processes. They are adept at multi-tasking, prioritizing, and executing.

Hormel Foods, in Austin, Minnesota, is building an environment where dynamic leaders can accomplish their goals. Says David Dickson, group vice president for Hormel, "One of the things that is unique at Hormel is that three times a week, if you are in town, you come to a meeting with all the officers of the company. We have representatives from all the staff groups and from all the divisions, and we sit and talk about the business. We discuss what's good, what's bad and what's difficult. Every Wednesday we have to report on our results for the previous week. It's an amazing incentive when you have to do that every week in front of your peers. We also take notes at these meetings. The ones that are not confidential are disseminated widely throughout the organization. A discussion where the CEO makes a point at 9:00 A.M. on Monday morning, by 10:30 A.M. probably gets out to every sales district in the company. It is an amazing results-oriented process and communication system that keeps us all working together as a team."


Dynamic leaders care intensely about what they do. For these leaders, commitment is about emotional vesting, perseverance, and passion. The sense of reward they derive from their accomplishments feeds more than their pocketbooks --- it feeds their souls. For the dynamic leader, an emotional investment is an essential part of the ability to complete. This compulsion to excel, coupled with fearlessness, leads to the ability to complete, particularly with projects and visions that seemed impossible.

Cal James, CEO and president of Kaiser Permanente Company's Permco, was ready to retire when the opportunity came along to lead the organization. James was intrigued by the opportunity. "The organization was multi-layered and the key was in bringing every part of our group face-to-face with the internal customer. In such a complex company, it required completely rethinking the way we did business and doing it fast."

James knew that the only technique that would work would be to create an intermeshed team of networked leaders who could reinvent the business and struggle to overcome the bureaucracy that would resist massive change. He threw himself totally into the task, not only during the workweeks, but also by volunteering on the weekends in various community service projects alongside his employees and their families. In this way, James was able to expand his emotional vesting to encompass activities that diminished feelings of isolation and loneliness that may occur as the careers of leaders take them away from their families.


Consider these insights from Nigel Newton, chairman and CEO of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC in London, England, publisher of The Harry Potter Series ... "If you try too hard to improve your failure rate, you become afraid of your inbox, terrified by the proposals made by authors and their agents. You end up either having no output or a book that is so bland that no one will want to read it. Discovering J.K. Rowling has reminded me of the sheer fun of knowing long before anyone else that you have something that will change the world."

Newton's inspiration in taking unknown authors and his ability to attract and inspire key editors who are not only willing to take risks but are entrepreneurial as well, has meant that this independent publisher is competing successfully on a global level.


Assuredness is the clear focus and personal definition of individual intent and the coordination of that intent with the goals of the organization. Dynamic leaders know what they want to achieve and focus on doing so.

One of the frustrations of assuredness is that sometimes, even though it is clear what you want, a great deal of patience is needed to get there. George Fisher, former Chairman and CEO of Eastman Kodak, had a vision of where he wanted Kodak to go. But even he could not control the changes in the market, and adapting a large and still-political organization is like turning a destroyer on a dime. Says Joerg Agin, who ran the entertainment division of Kodak, "He knew what it takes and went through the rigors of making sure everyone in the organization was committed to making that happen. He dedicated the resources and he had the patience to wait. That was one of his most important capabilities. He had patience. He never lost sight of the end and the vision."


The term "penetration" encompasses many subtraits: the ability to see the whole; a deep belief in people; a willingness to be personally vulnerable; the ability to see interrelated connections; a balanced perspective of short and long-term needs; a balance between the extremes of toughness and humanity.

The objective of organizational penetration is not about friendship, but about respect. A small company called The Iris Group in Carlsbad, California, has taken penetration to another level. Steven Hoffman, founder and CEO of the privately-held company in the postcard business noticed that hundreds of employees were leaving the company building for lunch, often driving quite a distance to find a place to eat since the company was located in a developing community without many restaurants. This time-consuming activity caused a decrease in productivity. Alternatively, some employees would bring their own lunches and eat at their desks. This resulted in no communication, little networking, and few opportunities for team and group leaders to build personal equity and penetrate the organization with new and fruitful business opportunities.

Hoffman decided to provide a soup and salad bar for employees, thinking his employees might use this a few days a week and go out the rest of the time. However, the idea is so popular that no one leaves the company during lunch hour ---- employees sit together in the cafeteria and talk, less time is wasted, and building personal equity through penetration has moved into all areas of the company, dramatically increasing the effectiveness of all teams. Hoffman and his senior management team now have the ability to talk to people at every level of the company and actually know what is going on. Interestingly, this is THE benefit that employees talk about. It has become en employment differentiator and part of the culture of this small company, which is growing by double-digit numbers annually.


Intelligence in regard to dynamic leaders is an intelligence filled with insight and perspective. It is a healthy dose of maturity with a sense of self-worth thrown in. The manifestation of this kind of intelligence is the willingness to identify others who have talent and place them in the appropriate positions where they can excel, then arrange the environment in such a way that they will not only excel, but be rewarded for doing so.

Few organizations can do this while serving over 30 million customers, all of whom are individuals with local needs and constraints. Even fewer can do it with little or no capital, few assets other than knowledge workers, and an army of people with only the belief, the commitment, and the time to make it happen. I am talking about D.A.R.E. This remarkable organization now operates in 54 countries. Its community acceptance and local implementation has created a leadership system that would make any dynamic leader proud.

D.A.R.E. believes and espouses that no one should be doomed because of his or her environment or economic situation. Everyone has the ability to achieve their potential.

Employees must be given the opportunity to be the best that they can be and must not be typecast because of their environment or history. Circumstance and opportunity make people terrific leaders. D.A.R.E. does its best to let people, both volunteers and children, know what opportunities are available and how to position themselves to take advantage of them.


The ability to mobilize and implement requires energy --- a sense of opportunistic optimism married to a sense of urgency. If we look at the history of some of the world's corporate giants, those who have weathered all types of challenges and adversity, we see a commonality shared by all great managers and leaders: With an eye to economic cycles and market indicators, great managers seize the moment and act with surety. No CEO alone can make change happen. It entails creating a "why not" versus a defensive "why" culture.

Ron Johnson, who I interviewed when he was vice president and general manager of Home Décor, Target Stores, (a dynamic leader who is now a senior executive in charge of the retail stores group at Apple Computer), considered Target to be a "why not" culture. If a new idea was suggested, he answered, "Why not do it?"

Johnson believed strongly that, "The key merchandise trend for the next decade will be design. So my team identified a person that we thought was one of the foremost architects and product designers of the twentieth century --- Michael Grave. My team said, 'We need someone who can provide great design at a value that we can market.' So in order to accomplish that, we had to make a major, up-front commitment to Michael for something that was unproven in the market. Will it work? Will people really want to move into this standard? After all, we knew this was Target. This wasn't Bloomingdale's. We went forward and signed the agreement to launch over 250 products in the stores. It set an example of Target's ability to have an idea and go for it."


Organizational integrity --- building trust and credibility, showing a faith in employees, a commitment to their well-being, and support for their hard work --- will attract and retain knowledge workers whom everyone wants.

Southwest Airlines is an often-cited success story, perhaps because it is so unique in many ways that its performance and culture are impossible to duplicate. Herb Kelleher, the longtime CEO and now Chairman of Southwest Airlines, has always believed that "a company is stronger if it is bound by love, rather than by fear." While most businesses have sterilized their workplace environments with restrictions and uniformity, Southwest has based its culture around a deep respect and accountability that comes from freedom. Kelleher also is adamant that a suggestion box is too late. You have to be accessible at all levels of management to hear what employees are saying and to use their ideas. Because of this, Southwest has become one of the most successful, admired companies in the world.


Perception means being customer-focused, both internal and external, domestic and international. Getting into your customer's head is at the baseline of being in business. If you don't know how to do it, your chances for success are limited. In the days of the Internet madness, many companies were created (and died) without a clear understanding of who their customers were, how to get them, and the cost of acquiring and keeping them.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of, has made an article of being a dynamic leader, with his particular focus on the customer experience. Creating perception and getting into the customer's head has been a mission of his company. Says Bezos, "More than any company that I know of, most of our intrinsic value has been built through having a culture focused on customer experience. We got very lucky in the early days of the culture of the company. Because we were so woefully unprepared for the early demand, every single person in the company had to drop what they were doing and service customers. Think of a company of 30 people where every software engineer, every marketing person, every person in the company is working until 2:00 A.M. serving customers --- wrapping things, driving them to the post office, getting the postal meter refilled. You get a culture that cares about the customer, and cultures are notoriously stable for good or for bad. The culture of customer obsession is the thing that has built most of our intrinsic value."

Changing behavior is one of the most difficult challenges personally and professionally that one faces in a lifetime. Dynamic leaders --- no matter where they are in the organization --- embrace change and make it happen. They fearlessly complete tasks, work with others in a variety of ways, and they combine intelligence, integrity, energy, optimism, and creativity to serve the present, and anticipate and plan for the future.

Larraine Segil is a Thought Leader on mergers, alliances and the importance of business relationships. Her latest book, "Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization: Ten Essential Traits for Managers," was published in March, 2002 as the lead book for Wiley Publishers. She is also the author of "FastAlliances™: Power Your E-Business" (Wiley, 2001), and "Intelligent Business Alliances," (Times Books, 1996). Called "The Real Internet Deal" by Fast Company magazine, Larraine has been featured in BusinessWeek, CIO, CFO, Bloomberg News, and Internet World. She is a commentator on CNN, CNBC and Yahoo FinanceVision on alliances and mergers, and consults worldwide on alliances for domestic and global companies. Larraine can be reached directly at (310) 556-1778 or via email at . More information can be found on her website at .

Media Contact: Cindy Kazan (414) 352-3535; .

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Copyright 2003 by Larraine Segil. All rights reserved.

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