Is Your CEO A Brilliant Jerk?
maybe the world. They are
quite persuasive and able to
convince people to follow
them. These leaders exude
confidence and may bully
people in pursuit of their vision.
●● Opaqueness. By controlling
the free flow of information,
leaders are often able to
block visibility to performance
data that is critical to
effective decision making
and governance. When
the board is not provided
with information needed to
govern and is shielded from
a clear picture of company
performance, governance is
The presence of any of these
three elements does not
guarantee there will be a problem.
But when these are present, it is
a clear signal there could be a
There is a lot at stake here
Two important lessons emerged
from our discussions with board
members, extensive research,
and experience dealing with
the conundrums of multiple
The presence of an authoritarian
trailblazer requires special
handling. The traditional corporate
governance principles are needed,
but must be supplemented with
additional practices. With an
inspired and highly controlling
powerhouse at the helm, boards,
investors, and employees need to
be ready for a different journey
The best actions to govern, thrive,
and survive depend on the type
of visionary you are dealing with.
Dominant visionaries are not all
the same. With some visionaries,
there is a risk of getting in the
way and curtailing the value they
could create. With other types,
complacency is a huge mistake.
Left unsupervised, their behavior
could destroy the company.
Our work is at the nexus of
corporate governance and
innovation and looks at how
boards and others can best
manage and work with leaders
like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk
and other dominant visionaries
to maintain corporate control
while not stifling innovation and
creativity. This is the conundrum.
Marc J. Epstein, PhD was, until recently, Distinguished Research Professor of Management at Jones
Graduate School of Business at Rice University in Houston, Texas, as well as a former professor at
Stanford Business School, Harvard Business School, and INSEAD. Dr. Epstein has written extensively
on corporate and nonprofit board governance, the role of boards of directors, organizational trust, and
corporate accountability. He is the author of twenty books and well over two hundred professional
papers that have won numerous top academic, professional, and business awards.
Rob Shelton is a globally recognized Silicon Valley–based consultant, author, and speaker on entrepreneurial
excellence, breakthrough innovation, and scaling to drive rapid growth. Over the past
forty years, Shelton served as trusted partner and adviser to CEOs and senior executives at leading
organizations in the valley and around the world.
Together, they previously collaborated (along with Tony Davila) on Making Innovation Work: How to Manage It, Measure It, and
Profit from It (2006), a bestselling book from Wharton School Publishing. Their newest book, The Brilliant Jerk Conundrum, is
available for via Amazon and other fine booksellers.
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