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Leadership - Ginni Rometty

Updated on July 10, 2017
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Sandy holds a management degree and is pursuing an MBA degree. Her research focusses on business and behaviorism including diversity issues.

Personality Traits Essential for Leaders


The example of a business leader chosen for this topic discussion is Ginni Rometty who is the Chairman, President, and CEO of IBM (IBM, 2016). She is currently number eleven on Forbes list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” (2016) where her ambition continues to steer and transform IBM into a sustainable model for the digital age. She has directed multiple spending programs for data-analysis software and skills, cloud computing and the Watson artificial intelligence technology all in the four years as CEO, chairman and president (Forbes, 2016).

The decision to choose Ginni was due to an International Woman’s Day event that I attended a few years ago, it was extremely inspiring! Since then, I have been somewhat following IBM’s progression in order to read about her astonishing accomplishments, she is certainly bringing IBM to the next level. There are two quotes from Ginni Rometty that have really motivated me which are “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before” and “don’t let others define you. You define yourself” (BrainyQuote, 2016).

There is indication that she has indeed learnt from her predecessors Lou Gerstner (DiCarlo, 2002) and Sam Palmisano who have both successfully reinvented IBM in the unpredictable technology market. This is evident where she was at Palmisano’s side for a significant duration of his tenure which spanned a decade. About four years ago, she became a serious candidate as one of his successors and intimately participated in establishing the higher standard that she must now exceed. The team that developed the five-year plan called 2015 Roadmap targeting over $125 billion in revenue that year consisted of Ginni and other senior leaders (Hempel, 2012).

Due to the rapidly changing external environment of the computer services industry, the organization has adapted in unpredictable circumstances and has remained flexible. This is evident as many IBM advocates believe that she has made the right decisions to sell outdated and less profitable businesses in an effort to focus on key ventures such as security, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (Darrow, 2016). This is evident in her leadership qualities as having a clear vision for the future of the organization and providing clear direction for her team in order to take risks and overcome new challenges.


In addition, the company is known for alignment and motivation where corporate governance develops a small number of long-term strategic beliefs that provide a mutual focus for employees. This deliberately instills a higher purpose for employees and working for a common overall goal (Center for Work Life, 2014). This also shows her ability to clearly communicate and be specific with the company’s vision, strategic goals and expectations of the employees. She also exhibits the qualities of a role model and realizes the importance of actions speaking louder than words where she is always aware about living her beliefs and not necessarily voicing them. There was one example where her actions spoke louder than her words when turning down a performance bonus from IBM (Center for Work Life, 2014). This was due to a decline in the company’s growth for that fiscal year and the bonus was reinvested into the business which eliminated the need for more staff cuts.

Therefore, I would rate her overall effectiveness to be at Level 5 Executive as my research has indicated that she develops persistent greatness by combining personal humility and professional determination (Collins, 2005). The manner in which I measured her effectiveness is through the previous lines of reasoning and the evaluation of transformational leadership. This leadership approach was introduced by Bernard M. Bass in an effort to measure leadership across four dimensions which are individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealized influence (Leadership-central, 2016). I also think that she has the ability to look ahead with a vision for the future and the foresight to act on growing the business as opportunities arise.

She has been vocal in her strong belief that we are entering a new technological era where a durable union exists between digital business and digital intelligence which is known as cognitive business. This is absolutely remarkable to have such forethought in the direction of technology specifically with her personal support of the IBM Watson technology platform. She has further expanded the portfolio to include additional products and services to help companies effectively manage the complexities involved with business intelligence in order to achieve optimal performance management. This will enable organizations to analyze unlimited amounts of quality data to make informed business decisions. These are some examples of Ginni supporting the introduction of new products in an effort to expand into new markets that were developed in-house by IBM scientists. This illustrates how she has continued to shape IBM’s culture and ethics through effective leadership by defining and communicating a vision of strong values.

Misconceptions of Leadership


There is also the issue of media exaggerating the belief of leadership as the general perception of a leader is the person who is in charge of operations and employees. These individuals are perceived to have strong personalities, be powerful and extremely influential, somewhat as a hero or heroine. The misconception of a single individual being in command and in control is historical in nature as most organizations were structured as a hierarchy. This could be attributed to the outcome of press releases by a company’s public relations as a marketing tool in order to communicate on a personal level with consumers. There are now many online news sites such as Yahoo News and Google News that contain a somewhat unlimited about of press release content. These press releases can be efficient mechanisms targeting directly to consumers as a primary communication tool and RSS provides an easy means to syndicate news (Odden, 2016).

The major influence on organizational culture of most companies is the personality and beliefs of the founder and/or the chosen successor which is the CEO more often than not. This position comes with many responsibilities including the expectation of being the company’s spokesperson which links back to the influences of press releases. The role of a CEO is comprised of four fundamental tasks which are:

  1. Defining and interpreting the meaningful external environment.
  2. Continuously answering the two-part question of what business are we in and what business are we not in?
  3. Balancing sufficient revenue in the present with necessary investment in the future.
  4. Determining the values and standards of the organization.

There is strength in the clarity and simplicity of these tasks where deception exists because the work is more demanding than suspected by an outside observer. The challenge lies in resisting the influence of other work that is not unique to the CEO’s responsibilities (Lafley, 2009). As a result, larger companies should assign significance to the role of CEO however must also formally acknowledge employees for their continuous efforts in supporting the organization’s goals and values.

In my opinion, the established culture at IBM of innovation has assisted in executing Ginni’s vision due to the 35 years at the company. For an individual to be engaged for that length of time and commit their career progression in one company illustrates the existence of a healthy psychological contract. This has also provided the support, trust and freedom from the organization for her to implement these strategies through her own leadership style.

Sandy Ennis. C.E.T., PBDM
Author / Business Consultant


BrainyQuote. (2016). Ginni Rometty Quotes.

Center for Work Life. (2014, June 18). Leadership Qualities of Ginni Rometty.

Collins, J. (2005). Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review. 83(7), 136-146.

Darrow, B. (2016). At the ripe age of 105, IBM seeks to reinvent itself – again. Fortune.

DiCarlo, L. (2002, November 11). How Lou Gerstner Got IBM To Dance. Forbes.

Forbes. (2016). The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women – #11 Ginni Rometty. Forbes.

Hempel, J. (2012, September 20). IBM's Ginni Rometty looks ahead. Fortune.

IBM. (2016). Ginni.

Lafley, A.G. (2009, May). What Only the CEO Can Do. HBR.

Leadership-central. (2016). Bass Transformational Leadership Theory.

Odden, L. (2016). Press Releases as Marketing Tools.


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