Six Pillars of Leadership: Why Grounded Leaders Drive High Performance

Our leadership model is broken. CEOs are poorly served by the prevailing paradigm–a long-standing focus to produce short-term results. But at what cost to ourselves and to our organizations? Recent research points to six dimensions of health that support superior leadership.

December 9 2013 by Bob Rosen


Our leadership model is broken. CEOs are poorly served by the prevailing paradigm–a long-standing focus to produce short-term results. But at what cost to ourselves and to our organizations? Recent research points to six dimensions of health that support superior leadership.

Today’s CEOs find themselves ill-equipped to manage the challenges they now face in a world changing faster than their ability to reinvent themselves. As they look into their organizations, there remains a growing gap between present and future leader.

But a new model is emerging; a radically different approach to leadership that speaks to our better selves, while helping CEOs grapple with the relentless and complex demands of today’s marketplace and improving their company’s performance. Our extensive research with 500 CEOs in 50 countries over the last 20 years has led us to a startling finding: It’s who you are as a healthy leader that determines what you do—and, in turn, drives performance.

Specifically, we’ve found that the matter of who you are is determined by six dimensions of leadership health, with the roots forming the foundation of great leadership. They include:

Physical health which provides the energy and stamina needed to keep up with the relentless speed of change, as well as the ability to use mental and physical energy effectively and live a healthy life. PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Chairman Dennis Nally, for example, drives growth and change in his company by maintaining his physical energy with golf and maintaining his physical energy with golf and fitness while balancing his work and personal lives.

Emotional health enables leaders to understand their strengths and shortcomings, to tap into positive feelings and jettison the negative ones, to be comfortable living with uncertainty and bounce back from adversity. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time her company was stagnating, Linda Rabbitt, founder of Rand Construction in Washington, D.C., used her increasing self-awareness to let go and value her relationships more deeply and better delegate responsibility to her employees, helping the business to break out of its rut and experience explosive growth.

Intellectual health involves a mental adroitness and deep curiosity, an ability to understand and accept contradictory or paradoxical thoughts and think clearly enough to innovate quickly and meet the demands of a complex marketplace and workplace. The CEO of military shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries Mike Petters tapped his deep curiosity, adaptive mindset,and commitment to lifelong learning when his led the company, a spin-off of Northrop Grumman, in 2011 in a successful IPO.

Social health provides the capacity to be authentic while forging intimate ties with others and to build mutually rewarding relationships and help to nourish teams and communities. Ken Samet, president and CEO of Medstar Health, the largest health-care system in the Washington, DC region, boosted employee trust and commitment to his 2020 strategy, in large part, by being real, honest and authentic.

Vocational health is your ability to tap into a personal calling that reflects who you are and what you want to be, to fulfill your highest potential through personal mastery and to drive for achievement and success in a competitive world. Ted Mathas, CEO of New York Life, the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States, helped to transform the firm’s traditional decision-making structure—and to weather the 2008 economic downturn—through personal mastery by challenging himself, learning from others and being thoroughly prepared to address the issues.

Spiritual health opens up the part of an individual that recognizes something more meaningful than personal needs; it helps leaders tackle the forces of globalization and avoid chasing small-minded aims. Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO of Alcoa, combines his German-bred passion for excellence with his commitment to social responsibility, applying those values to every facet of operations, from the work the company’s foundation does, to ensuring the business’s leaders are globally minded and socially committed.

Mastering the six dimensions of leadership health allows company chiefs to take the actions necessary to lead in today’s environment. (See sidebar). The results have dramatic consequences for the bottom line. These leaders significantly outperform their less-healthy peers, according to our research.

In fact, through face-to-face interviews with hundreds of CEOs and the results of our 360 Healthy Leaders Profile, which measures individuals’ leadership character and performance, our research revealed an eye-opening finding: The higher the leadership health score, the better the performance metric as rated by bosses, peers and staff. The formula is straight-forward – who you are drives what you do and that influences how you perform.

Ultimately, leaders who master the six dimensions see the world clearly, think with an open mind, feel with positive emotions and act constructively and responsibly. As a result, they are not only personally more fulfilled, but also able to run healthier and more competitive, profitable companies.

Six Actions Healthy Leaders Should Take

CEOs grounded by the dimensions of health are able to take six actions critical to company performance:

Tapping into a higher purpose. Ben Noteboom, CEO of Randstad Holdings, a global staffing company, boosted revenues from $5 billion in 2003 to $22.8 billion today partly by hiring people who are “fundamentally motivated to be able to build a better company and a better world around a higher purpose” he says.

Forging a shared direction. Alan Mulally, who became CEO of Ford Motor Co. at time when the company was hemorrhaging money and shedding thousands of jobs, focused the organization around the One Ford One Direction plan and turned the firm around.

Unleashing human potential. David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands, relishes his role as teacher and mentor, instructing more than 4,000 people over 15 years in everything from problem-solving to step-change thinking.

Fostering productive relationships. Sally Jewel, former CEO of outdoor apparel and gear retailer REI and now Secretary of the Interior, formed deep personal connections with employees through town hall meetings in which she opened up the books, as well as regular “Let’s talk” sessions.

Seizing new opportunities. By creating a smart, growth-oriented culture, including making 26 acquisitions in 17 years, Kumar Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, (AGB) a global conglomerate producing everything from aluminum to cement, expanded the company from $2 billion in 1995 to $40 billion today—and is shooting for $60 billion by 2015.

Driving high performance. John Kealey, CEO of software company Decision Lens and former chief of satellite business iDirect Technologies, helped revenues at the latter firm soar 1,600 percent to over $120 million in five years by forging a culture encouraging teamwork and going the extra mile.

Bob Rosen is an organizational psychologist, and author of six books including his latest, The New York Times bestseller Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World. His firm, Healthy Companies International, has worked with Johnson & Johnson, Brinks, Northrop Grumman, Citigroup, PepsiCo, ING and PricewaterhouseCoopers among other major organizations.