NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last Thursday Jim Cramer told his "Mad Money Recap" audience that "CEOs can provide that 'special sauce' " to companies that can make companies perform better and produce greater results. If you haven't seen the clip or read the article, you should. Cramer mentions Jim Skinner of McDonald's ( MCD), Mickey Drexler of J. Crew ( JCG) and Steve Jobs at Apple ( AAPL), as examples of leaders whose presence and experience bring security to investors and provide an identity to the company that pays off in financial results.I would suggest another CEO should be added to this list: Jon Rubinstein, CEO of Palm ( PALM) and architect of the Palm Pre. Rubinstein brings to the company an identity of innovation that may prove to be its salvation. As one of the primary forces behind the Apple iPod, Rubinstein brings a force of leadership to the beleaguered technology firm. Although recently battered by slow plays in the marketplace (Palm introduced the smartphone only to be outdone by Apple and RIM ( RIMM)), Palm is betting on Rubinstein to be the leader it needs to get back into a position of strength. Given his record of innovation, he might just be the one to do it. These CEOs are not magical, nor is there anything mystical about their ability to define their companies in their own image. The "special sauce" that Cramer mentions is identifiable in the characteristics that make up these successful and iconic leaders. We see them because they are at the top of the major players, but the characteristics that make up these successful leaders can be found in businesses small and large.
1. Authenticity. The CEOs that add value to their companies in such a noticeable way are also those who are predictable and authentic. I call this the "blue jean factor." They are self-aware enough to know that, at the end of the day, they are called to be leaders, but they are just normal human beings. Rubinstein, for example, works from home one day a week and keeps hours that are more-or-less humane. He takes public transportation, and in so doing, is in constant contact with the bodies that make up his customer base. 2. Enthusiasm. Successful CEOs have a passion for what they do. Their energy is noticeable and comes from a sincere love of their product and their people. Dave Brandon, CEO of Domino's ( DPZ), is one of these leaders. He talks about pizza like other people talk about their favorite pastime. His is not the kind of insane, screaming-and-yelling lunatic that is sometimes seen in failing organizations (you know who they are). Instead, he shows the passion of a man who is leading a company in which he believes. His belief makes you believe. 3. Guts. While a part of McDonald's during its heyday of expansion, Jim Skinner had the courage to speak out. The business-school version of McDonald's analysis frequently focused on the fact that McDonald's was all about owning real estate. Skinner changed that with his willingness to take ownership of McDonald's quality. The focus on improving the service and offerings of existing stores (McCafe anyone?) reflects the fortitude of the leader and a willingness to take risks.
Of course, in all cases of truly successful leaders, there has been more than a little element of luck and timing. Drexler hit a wall with Gap ( GPS) only to leave and find his role at J. Crew exactly at the moment when the company needed his particular skill set. Rubinstein left Apple and recharged himself for awhile before the opportunity at Palm came, when he was willing to take it. Had Palm knocked on his door immediately after his Apple departure, Rubinstein would have likely passed on the opportunity. But luck is a funny thing. Leaders who are truly successful prepare themselves to be lucky. They embark on ever-changing experiences and development so that they are uniquely ready when fate presents itself. They combine authenticity, enthusiasm and guts in a way that opportunities come looking for them. And this is the key. Like any special sauce, it is not one of these elements that makes the difference; it is the combination of all three. When you find that leader who exhibits the integrity of self awareness, the passion of their work and the willingness to take risks all laid out on a foundation of strong experience and knowledge, you have found a truly impactful leader. -- Written by Todd Thomas in Southfield, Mich.