THINKPIECE: At the root of our fascination with CEOs is the US culture of hero-worship that downplays the team

A friend inquired the other day about why corporate reputations in the US seem so closely tied to the personalities of their CEOs. The obvious answer is that leadership matters, both in style and substance.

A friend inquired the other day about why corporate reputations in the US seem so closely tied to the personalities of their CEOs. The obvious answer is that leadership matters, both in style and substance.

A friend inquired the other day about why corporate reputations in

the US seem so closely tied to the personalities of their CEOs. The

obvious answer is that leadership matters, both in style and

substance.



No one can doubt, for example, that Lee Iacocca was indispensable to

Chrysler Corporation’s escape from bankruptcy in the 1980s.



In fact, virtually all successful organizations in the US today are led

by famous or near-famous figures, or by people who hope to become famous

someday. Ours is a nation that worships personalities. We convert the

merely successful into celebrities, not because of who they are, but

because of who we are. The reason why CEOs are more important to

corporate reputation in the US than anywhere else has more to do with

culture than with business.



Ours is a culture of solitary heroes and individual achievement. Most

chief executives would rather be on the cover of Fortune than receive a

Baldridge Award for quality. Why? Because the latter is a collective

achievement, while the cover of Fortune is about one person.



This phenomenon drives individuals to achieve their best, but the

downside is a culture of hero-worship that talks about team goals and

group accomplishment, but rewards individuals. McDonald’s Corporation

directors recently gave CEO Jack Greenberg stock options valued at more

than dollars 25 million, largely because its stock had performed so well

the previous year. Was he worth it? Ask the other senior managers - they

received nothing. Does such a system breed resentment? No one at

McDonald’s would ever say so, but it’s hardly a team approach to

compensation.



Ford is preparing to announce the divestiture of Visteon Automotive

Systems, its highly successful auto parts unit. As Ford executives

consider whether this should take the form of a spin-off to shareholders

or an IPO of the entire unit, the decision will depend, in part, on the

value they can derive from the move. So what is their primary concern?

The fact that current Visteon president and chief executive Craig

Muhlhauser is all but unknown to Wall Street.



Asian firms value group accomplishment over individual achievement

because their societies value group identity. Latin American, Middle

Eastern and even European cultures are more collectively oriented than

ours.



Until we read, see and hear more about team achievements in our society

and less about who scored the winning goal or who’s leading in the race

for the Heisman trophy, we will continue to celebrate headline heroes

and think of everyone else on the team as supporting cast.



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