by Kevin Cashman – Forbes

Taking a true measure of our leadership success is no easy task. Do we measure net profit? Gross revenue? Customer satisfaction and loyalty? EBITDA? Quarterly results? Stock price? Social responsibility? While all these yardsticks are crucial, do they really get to the essence of what sustains leadership for the long run?

Recently, a 70-year-old CEO reflected with me, “In the end, the real measure of success will unlikely be our accomplishments or achievements. Rather, our most authentic measure will likely be the lasting impact we had on the lives of people.” I doubt many of us will lament in our final hour, “If only I had pushed for one more percentage point of profit in my last quarter!” Likely we will reflect on our key relationships, on the people we have impacted, loved, grown and been influenced by.

In the 75+ year Grant and Glueck study at Harvard, the longest continuous research study with four research leaders to date, there has been one consistent finding across the decades, across generations and across geographies: that the true measure of success and satisfaction rests on one thing, relationships.

In a leadership context, relationships play out in a multitude of ways in teams, collegial connections, culture and customers. In many ways, all leadership is in relationship, a way to add enduring value with and for people. However, I posit that there is one fundamental measure to our leadership effectiveness: how many leaders have you produced?

While this measure may be a real, sustainable computation as to our ability to generate value from one generation to the next, it is rarely calculated.

As a CEO, how many CEOs have you produced? If a board is looking for tangible CEO evaluation, this may be one of the better ways to evaluate sustained performance. With some of our clients, we actually track this generative multiplier.

Novartis is one organization that has produced an extraordinary number of CEOs over the years. Their dedication to a performance culture and a wide range of leadership investments has clearly paid off. Partnering with a wide range of divisional, functional and HR leaders like Steven Baert and Anish Batlaw has been a great privilege. But one Novartis leader I have closely worked with for more than a decade, and tracked his “true measure of success,” is Thomas Ebeling, now CEO of ProSieben Media, the largest media company in Europe. Thomas’ track record is unique, as he has mastered CEO leadership across three very diverse industries over the past 15+ years: consumer products, pharmaceuticals and the media. Rarely do CEOs demonstrate agility, success and people passion across such diverse industries. So how many CEOs has Thomas helped to produce over the past 15 years? The number is currently 23 and still counting … these are not 23 possible CEOs. We have tracked and verified 23 actual CEOs, many of major publicly traded firms. Few CEOs have contributed to the development of so many CEOs. So , what accounts for this successful development of top people?

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