Leadership Lyceum: CEO Susan Story, American Water Works CEO

I have had the pleasure of hearing Susan Story, CEO of American Water, speak to industry groups on numerous occasions over the last several years. Her speeches are engaging and carry power that moves an audience to action.

I realized that the persuasive power of her public speaking and her approach to leadership demonstrate quintessential qualities for effective leadership beyond the boundaries of the corporation that she leads.

A key measure of success for our industry is continuously achieving safe, clean, reliable, affordable delivery of service. These objectives are dynamic and their parameters are often dependent on public policy, legislation, and regulatory relationships. Industry leaders, therefore, must advocate in these areas by leading and influencing beyond the boundaries of their corporations. They must lead beyond their authority.

But what is leading beyond authority? There are three types of authority, according to the sociologist Max Weber.

There is authority based on legal rules. There is traditional authority, based on traditions, customs and historical precedents. Weber posited an additional authority structure called charismatic authority. Charismatic authority is conferred on someone not by established norm or rule, but by an individual's personal history, achievements and leadership qualities.

There are many descriptors for the general qualities of the effective leader. But there are very few specific frameworks for effective leadership with charismatic authority. In 1951, Northwestern University professor Franklyn Haiman established a list of qualities desirable for a leader engaged in democratic processes. These qualities include social sensitivity, which includes a respect and concern for others, extroversion, and a belief in the value of the individual. This sincere interest in other people is the most important attribute of this type of leader. Other qualities include sensitivity to the basic trends and moods of the group; knowledge and expertise in the area where they are expected to lead; facility in verbalizing the ideas of a group; vitality; maturity and patience.

Susan Story has those qualities. They are evident throughout my interview with her. These attributes enable her to successfully lead and influence people beyond her corporate authority into the areas of corporate social responsibility and public policy.

Read excerpts of this interview here, or listen to the conversation.