Thomas A. Stewart
Executive Director, NCMM AND Former Chief Marketing & Knowledge Officer, Booz & Company

What makes a leader?

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Tom Stewart says a leader is defined by stamina, resilience, emotional intelligence, and political acumen.

Thomas A. Stewart

Thomas A. Stewart is the Chief Marketing and Knowledge Officer (CMKO) of the global management consulting firm Booz & Company. Stewart most recently served as editor and managing director of Harvard Business Review, and is a best-selling author, an authority on intellectual capital and knowledge management, and an influential thought leader on global management issues and ideas.

During Stewart’s six years with Harvard Business Review, the magazine was a two-time finalist for general excellence in the National Magazine Awards, and received an “Eddie” in 2007 from Folio Magazine.

Previously, Stewart served as the editorial director for Business 2.0 and as a member of Fortune’s Board of Editors. He is the author of two books, Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations, and The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the 21st Century Organization, published by Doubleday Business in 1998 and 2003, respectively.

Stewart is a fellow of the World Economic Forum. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, and holds an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Cass School of Business at City University, London.


Question: What defines a great leader?

Tom Stewart: Yeah.  There are … there are a couple.  And I’m gonna start with a … with an important but prosaic one, which is stamina.  There is an …  And the ability to keep … to keep going despite a lot of obstacles and difficulties.  There’s a certain physical stamina.  The ability to pay attention for a long period of time.  The ability to sit in a chair.  The ability to work long hours.  The ability to … I mean you know, whether it’s jetlag or anything else.  But there’s also sort of a stamina of vision, an idea that this is not about getting it all done by 5 o’clock this afternoon.  That there is, you know, a … that, that part of a leader’s job is to articulate some place that we may never get to, but that it’s some journey that we’re gonna take over a period of time.  And it isn’t necessarily gonna be a short period of time.  So I think stamina is one.  And related to that, a kind of psychological stamina.  Two elements of that.  One is resilience.  The other is the ability to maintain a kind of energy around … around ideas.  One of the things that’s always interested me is some of the leaders I know, they don’t … they keep …  Ronald Reagan is a classic example.  They repeat the same damn thing over and over again.  And you think, “Don’t you ever get tired of it?”  And I don’t think they do.  I … I … I think they genuinely think these are important things.  And if we’re gonna get there, and it’s important.  I’m not repeating it.  I’m underlining it.  And … and … and I’m still energized.  I’m energized by the work.  Energized by the people.  Energized by the idea.  And so I think that being energized is … is … is very important.

    Obviously, some kind of emotional intelligence, and – I dare say it – a political skill.  These days people use politics as a negative word.  And it’s politics when you lose, but it’s alignment when you win.  And so the ability to … to help other people find their way to work with you toward these ideas that you share … the ability to … to work through and with other people I think is important.  And it’s not only a matter of empathy.  It can also be a matter of inspiration.  So I would think that those … those two are pretty key.  And then there’s a third which is, to me, the most mysterious, which is … which is a sort of a …  a record over time of being able to make sound judgments.  Because these decisions are ambiguous.  You know, should you invest in this product or invest in this product?  Should you make this ad campaign or that ad campaign?  Should you take … you know, move the army in this direction or in that direction?  It’s not always clear.  But the best of these people have a way of … of … of thinking through and thinking about problems that leads them to make sound judgments more often than maybe most of us do.

Recorded on: 6/22/07