detail of painting, copyright 2006 by Benice Horowitz, Stamford, Connecticut. All rights reserved.

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Base Camp Four: Leadership Near the Summit

Below is a brief case summary that illustrates the thesis of our next research study. The focus of the study, to be conducted by Clare Huffington and Sharon Horowitz, will be on the dilemmas and challenges of leading a team of talented and highly technical people.

Hired right out of MIT, Jim had worked his way up from programmer to CTO of a high-tech company. His passion for problem solving coupled with his quick wit and mathematical aptitude propelled him on his rapid rise through the ranks. But now, in mid January, he was looking at a “meets expectations” bonus, and, more to the point, a year-end review that described him as brilliant, talented, and loyal, but also a micro-manager, controlling, and in the words of his colleagues and direct reports, dismissive, impatient, self-absorbed, and unable to communicate a clear vision.

He had read the comments with a mixture of pride and horror. At first, he passionately refuted and discounted many of them, but eventually he surrendered and took the high road: “The feedback was golden,” he recalled. “It felt like a gut punch to acknowledge it, but I realize now that I was a bit of an ass.”

Jim had always taken pride in his ability to parlay his analytical and conceptual gifts into software programming, but he realized now that the clarity of his own thinking and knowledge had not successfully translated into team leadership skills. Rather, he had become like Captain Ahab—the lone man with a drive and compelling vision, but with an increasingly mutinous crew.

“It had an ‘us-versus-them’ quality, and even my most loyal team members had become alienated and rebellious,” he said. After careful consideration, Jim came to realize that the “whale in the room” was not some kind of hopeless quest, but his own insecurities coupled with his intellectual gifts.

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