When it comes to leadership, the research is clear: It’s better to be a fox than a hedgehog.
The idea of a hedgehog-fox divide comes from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, who wrote that “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.” For most of the last century, we’ve been inclined to think of CEOs as hedgehogs, because they were generally leading companies that made singular things: Disney made kids’ movies, IBM made computers, General Electric made household electronics. Now, though, most organizations serve multiple audiences in various ways: Disney makes multi-platform, cross-generational entertainment, IBM makes technology solutions, GE makes wind turbines and medical imaging devices in addition to your toaster. By extension, the notion that a CEO needs a broader view has become more pervasive.
That requires a lot of conversation. Earlier this month, Cassandra Frangos, author of Crack the C-Suite Code, spoke on the Wharton School of Business podcast about the increasing number of direct reports a CEO has, from six two decades ago to a dozen or more now. And, she points out, some firms are dispensing with the role of the COO, giving the chief executive more direct control over operations. “I think because of what many organizations are facing, they do need to have the direct levers on the business unit,” she says. “The CEO doesn’t really want a layer in between him or herself and the business units or the different functions. Everybody configures the chief operating officer very differently, but they really are looking to have more of that direct relationship, direct access, and not a management layer in between.”
This is as true for the typical association executive as it is the Fortune 500 leader—an association CEO needs a fox-like awareness about membership,...
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