Never Back Smug: A Lesson for Life Sciences From Newt Gingrich
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at school. “When judging some of these personality traits, it’s pretty universal. You can learn a lot by seeing the way somebody treats a receptionist. I’ve not done deals with people because of the way they interacted with my receptionist,” More says.
Another warning sign to More is what he calls “the silo mentality.” This is when a CEO strictly boxes people in the company into departments, so that he or she is the only person with a complete view of what’s going on. He didn’t say really what character flaw that exposes, although to me it sounds like paranoia or insecurity about one’s power over the minions. Then again, More says this isn’t necessarily a disqualifying characteristic. There are exceptions to the rule, like Steve Jobs, a famous jerk and fan of silos. (While sometimes assholes can be effective CEOs, that’s becoming less true in today’s world, according to a report last week from my colleague Greg Huang).
The best executives have an incredible focus, and deep burning desire in the gut to achieve a goal. They don’t want to be in the 99th percentile of what they’re doing, they want to be the absolute best, More says. For an obvious example of that mentality, watch New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the Super Bowl on Sunday. I’m no Patriots fan (Go Packers!), but I have to admire Brady’s burning intensity to be the best, and his recognition of how to bring out the best in his offensive line, running backs, and receivers. A great CEO also has relentless desire and surrounds himself with great people who can perform critical tasks around them, Blair says.
Beyond that, there’s the ability to inspire. While it may not be a character flaw, weak leadership, or weak ability to inspire is something that Blair says he probes for. “Intellectual leaders are one thing, but do the people working for him think he’ll run through brick walls to get the company where it needs to be?” Blair says. “I can remember one time asking people that, and hearing that if faced with a brick wall, their CEO would first take a long walk to the left of the wall to look and see if there’s a way around it, then take a long walk to the right, and then maybe grab a rope to hang over and try to climb it and take a look. That was not exactly a salute to his leadership.”
Some entrepreneurs, More says, are bound to shoot back, “what about the character flaws of VCs?” There are certainly many of those, and probably enough to fill up several future columns. At least for today, I’d love to hear your stories about what you think are the most deadly character flaws you see in biotech executives. Please post your thoughts in the comment section below, or send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org (and specify whether you’d like your comment to be public or not.)