A New CEO for Citigroup: Leadership Matters

As I prepare to write the column each week, I have a habit of looking at the comments that readers have provided from the week before.

This can be self-defeating since many of those who feel the need to comment are compelled to do so because they have taken offense at some aspect (or all aspects) of my opinion of that week. While I never respond well to shouting or name-calling, I do take the input seriously and I appreciate each comment that is included.

At the same time, it's an opinion column so if some debate is engaged, all the better. You have to click a couple of times to get to this column so I figure that you consciously chose to read it.

Having said that, one of my new friends from last week, responding vigorously to my thoughts on Citigroup's ( C) Vikram Pandit's future, ended his comments with the question, "Do you want to become next CEO of this company?"

While I doubt that he was actually in a position to offer me the job, he does bring up a good question. If I'm going to have an opinion about Pandit or any other leader, does it mean I should be willing to say I could do it better? Could it be that the missing CEO that could turn around the finance (and automotive) business is none other than me?

Well, maybe, but probably not. Besides the fact that I would go insane with power and money, hire all my friends and past classmates and fire anybody who looked like my third grade math teacher. I would also have some problems getting my arms around the various businesses and understanding the complexities of the various operations. This is also why you don't want me to be your brain surgeon or auto mechanic.

Nonetheless, it is still a good question. Who would be a good CEO given the current condition of leadership credibility and business challenge? Of all the CEOs I have met and interviewed in my career, there are a few that might be worth considering, but the one that comes to mind at the moment is Larry Bossidy.

Although many have been exposed to Bossidy most recently as a CNBC commentator, he has the chops and the experience to understand navigating tough times and has managed to do it throughout his career without loss of integrity or leadership credibility.

As CEO and chairman of the board of Allied Signal, Bossidy led the company to 31 consecutive quarters of earning-per-share growth and doubled many times over the appreciation of Allied's share price. He also led Allied into the merger with Honeywell International ( HON) and then came back again to help right the ship after the unsuccessful takeover attempt of Honeywell by his former employer, General Electric ( GE).

The thing about Bossidy that is missing in much of the recognized leadership today is his obvious focus on execution combined with his commitment to accountability. I spoke with him a couple of years ago regarding his views on leadership which seem particularly relevant today. For one thing, Bossidy is a big fan of a clear understanding of the success criteria for employees, customers, shareholders and industry. "You put this information against your internal qualifications," said Bossidy in our interview, "and then decide 'Is it reasonable?'"

If leaders were to do this today, asking, "Is it reasonable?" when looking at compensation and other corporate policies, it would be difficult to imagine making some of the decisions that have been made in the last few years.

Bossidy's focus on the "reasonable leader" makes a lot of sense in a time of unreason. And while he is often seen as a gruff sort of CEO, he is also an optimist. In November of 2008, he predicted that by November of 2009, the economic conditions of the U.S. would be "in a brighter place." With the Dow recently ending over 10,000, it appears that he may be right.

The other lesson to learn from Bossidy's perspective is that leaders have to use judgment. Whether in determining how to handle a crisis or, most recently, whether to pay $100 million bonuses, Bossidy argues that the leader -- especially in a public company -- has to consider what the response to his or her action will be. "It has to pass the smell test," Bossidy said recently on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "At the end of the day, it has to be decided by the judgment of the CEO."

Why leadership matters is not because it gives us people at which we can throw stones. It is because those in leadership positions have not only greater influence but greater responsibility to judgment and reason. There are those leaders like Larry Bossidy and many others that we can not only admire but learn from in order to establish our own leadership capabilities. And then there are the others.

-- Written by Todd Thomas in Southfield, Mich.

At the time of publication, Thomas did not have any positions in the equities mentioned. Leadership Development Specialist, L. Todd Thomas ("Dr. Todd" Ph.D., M.S., M.A. is Founder of IMPACT Consulting and Development and a Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Devos Graduate School of Management. He led Organizational Learning at Rockwell Avionics and was the executive responsible for Organizational and Executive Development at Daimler Financial Services for 10 years. Dr. Todd has coached and consulted with over 3,000 leaders from 40 different countries spanning four continents. He is a speaker, seminar leader and the author of "Leading in a Flat World: How Good Leaders Become Greatly Valued." Other titles include "Life Lessons for Leaders" and "Stop Wasting Your Time: Creating High-IMPACT Meetings" as well as the "Leadership Integrity Quotient(TM)" leadership assessment.

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