“It is said that great leaders are born, not made. The saying is true to this degree, that no man can persuade people to do what he wants them to do, unless he genuinely likes people, and believes that what he wants them to do is to their own advantage.” ~Bruce Fairchild Barton (1924)
Leadership has often been studied, individuals tested and bred, while the scholars seek the answers to the essence of “the perfect leader”. Several theoretical approaches tackle the age-old question of leaders and their personalities and / or processes. The goal to decipher why the individual is successful, or not. Leadership has been defined as a process whereby and individual influences others. Is leadership a simple form of manipulation or is it the simple winning spade of power, prestige, and privilege only given to an elite few? Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO (2001 -2011) and Executive Chairman has a long standing history as a leader. His net worth is approximately $10 billion, and is considered one of the wealthiest men in the United States of America. Is it his breeding, ivy-league education, or is he just simply “Google-y”?
Leadership theories have conflicting approaches to what makes a leader successful like, Schmidt. The early age scholars, like Stogdill, Kirkpatrick & Locke, and Mann all believed leaders where born with certain traits. Thereby, destining them to greatness after all “leaders are born not made”. Raymond Catell had a big influence on the traits theory coming up with the Five Factor Model of Personality. The “Big Five”, factors are neuroticism, extraversion (surgency), openness (intellect), agreeableness, and conscientiousness (dependability) (Northouse, P. 2015, p. 26). Extraversion has been one of the more highlighted factors, because of it’s correlation to people-skills. Another approach to describe leadership is the skills theoretical approach. This theory contrary to the traits theory believes that leadership can be taught; thereby leaders are developed not born. Coined, capability model because it compares the relationship between a leader’s knowledge and skills (i.e., capabilities) and the leader’s performance. This approach believes leadership skills can be developed through education and experience (Mumford, et al. 2000). Yet, another approach, the Contingency Theory is based on a leader-match theory; matching them to the ideal organization (Fieldler & Chemers, 1974). With so many theories to consider, we still ask ourselves, “Which is the path to enlightenment?”
Eric Schmidt, sure seems to have it all figured out. His parents were affluent, his mother (Eleanor) had a master’s degree in psychology and father (Wilson Emerson Schmidt) a professor of international economics at Virginia Teck and John Hopkins University. Schmidt’s father also worked for the U.S. Treasury Department during the Nixon administration. Schmidt attended Princeton received a bachelors in electrical engineering and has a masters and PhD from the University of California of Berkeley in computer science. This appears to fall completely in line with the traits theory. Undeniably, he has the picture-perfect beginnings from the beginning. Leadership, billionaire, & tech world domination would certainly appear to be his destiny. So, why does Schmidt have a management coach? Why is he considered “Google-y”? His approaches to leadership have been called “out-of-the-box”, “innovative”, and “non-traditional”. Google’s 70/20/10 Rule, Googleplex, and perks are undeniably the envy of all those working a professional gig. FREE organic food with chefs, onsite child-care, transportation, nap pods, no-suit-n-tie, and yet Google is the epitome of success with Schmidt at the helm. It would appear that Schmidt has transcended all of the theories. He has used his traits and skills to propel him to the top of Mount Everest in leadership, and it just so happens that the contingency works out after all. He is where he can be “Google-y”. Maybe Vince Lombardi is right, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” Both Barton’s and Lombardi’s quotes ring true when comparing Skills, Traits, and Contingency Theories. However, the contrary, may be as simple as your own brand of “Google-yness” to realize success in leadership.