The Century of the DEO


Are leaders born or made? This is a question that has been so frequently asked. However, the answer is not clear yet. When leadership literature is studied, it is obvious that the leadership concept has been evolving. In the past, it was accepted that leaders were born. That is why the personal characteristics of leaders were underlined in the traits approach of leadership. Then, the leadership was discussed as a process of interaction between the leader and his followers. These two views of leadership should be considered, and the conclusion is that leaders are born with some leadership traits and leaders are made by developing their leadership knowledge, skills and competencies.

When the same question is being asked now, the stronger answer is that leaders are made. Why? Because the 21st Century is such a dynamically changing period that requires leaders to learn, unlearn, relearn and develop continuously. Nowadays, it is broadly discussed that leadership development is the top HR issue and the first HR priority. In Korn Ferry Global Study: Succession Matters – Impactful Leadership Development and Accelareted Learning, it is written there simply aren’t enough individuals who are “ready now” to step into senior leadership roles. This is the main reason for the leadership development activities in many companies. Leaders attend different leadership development programs in order to learn and develop. Along with the formal in-house leadership development, there is a need for additional development methods. One of the most effective methods is self-development. Self-development requires reflection, self-assessment and self-awareness. All of these can be mastered by reading and thinking. One excellent book that I have recently read, and I would like to suggest is RISE of the DEO. In this post, I am aiming to review the book and shortly highlight the characteristics of the DEO.


Before reviewing the book, it is a good idea to understand what the DEO stands for and its definition. DEO stands for Design Executive Officer, and here is its definition.


RISE of the DEO

Rise of the DEO

RISE of the DEO written by Maria Giudice and Christopher Ireland is a great book for leaders who want to read, reflect and self-develop. Maria Giudice is a Director of Product Design at Facebook. Cristopher Ireland is a Cofounder of Mix and Stir Studio. They discuss the DEO in more than 200 pages, but my review is going to be short enough to give you a general picture of the book itself.



In this first part, the DEO is depicted as a Change AgentRisk Taker, Systems Thinker, Intuitive, Socially Intelligent and GSD. The DEO is not afraid of change. On the contrary, she boldly promotes change. That is why, the DEO is a change agent. Change is accelerating, and doing nothing or not taking risks results in failures. Risk taking is so essential for survival, true originality and innovation. For the DEO, risk taking is the key ingredient of creativity, so developing the risk taking skill is vitally important for her. Actually, the DEO turns the risk into experimentation and collaboration. This means that the DEO starts with a well-articulated framework that guides the risk taking process. The DEO is a systems thinker because he has to deal with the fast speed of increasing complexity. As defined in the book systems thinking is the ability to understand connections, and it’s the recognition that much of what occurs around us is the result of linked systems that influence one another in subtle ways. The DEO sees his company as an ecosystem, and he tries to understand its interlocking connections. As a result, he masters the systems thinking skill and applies it habitually. (If you are interested, you may read more about this skill in Why and How should Leaders practice Systems Thinking?To be intuitive is to feel something without necessarily being able to explain how and why you know it. The DEO is highly intuitive since she uses her intense perceptual and observation skills or her deep expertise. For example, she can analyze market opportunities, and then use intuition to discern elusive but critical specifics. Besides, the DEO appreciates the intuitive ability in others. Social intelligence is another feature of the DEO. He prefers spending time with employees and customers rather than equipment or spreadsheets. He connects with people because he knows that every interaction is a potential goldmine for information. The DEO connects with others and integrates them into well-defined and accessed networks. GSD is the innocent looking acronym that is short for Get Shit Done. In fact, stated politely it means that the DEO makes things happen. She balances dreaming, planning and doing, and by implementing the 80-20 rule, she also directs the most efforts where it is likely to do the most good.


In the second part of the book, the two writers discuss Co-creation, Networks and Communities, Mentoring vs. Managing, Crafting Culture, Care and Feedingand Place Matters. Employees can be more insightful and intelligent collectively then they can individually. Since the DEO is aware of this, she recognizes the benefits of “we”, so she encourages and promotes collaboration, cooperation and teamwork. Knowing the positive benefits of co-creation, the DEO finds ways to make it flourish in her company. She integrates more stakeholders which results in increasing everyone’s feelings of inclusion and commitment. Joining networks and communities, is not only an indicator of the DEO’s social competence, but also a strategy by which he creates value. He tries to construct two types of networks that are deep and wide. The deep networks are composed of experts and specialists, whereas the wide ones unite a broad range of people who may have little in common. Mentoring is a very important topic today, and many companies have mentoring programs. The DEO does not manage, she mentors. Mentoring is focused on the employees, and it is about guiding them to grow and become more proficient and successful. As it is known, managing is about control and conformity.Company culture is the unique collection of beliefs and practices that communicates company values. Well-designed culture unites all stakeholders in a shared understanding of the right things to do and the wrong things to avoid. The DEO purposefully and effectively designs and builds authentic and meaningful company culture because he recognizes its power. A strong company culture reflects the DEO’s own values, beliefs and behaviors. Care and feeding are essential for employees’ happiness, and the DEO knows this very well. Different employees want different working conditions and benefits. Consequently, the DEO tries to add flexible schedules, mobile working, daycare or care for aging parents and other benefits. Keeping and attracting talented employees is only possible by caring and recognizing them. The DEO is aware that place matters. The traditional working environments were designed to separate departments and discourage spontaneous collaboration because their primary goal was to reinforce hierarchy, linear problem solving and controlled communications. On the other hand, the DEO redesigns the working place to support her company’s distinct processes and people, increase communication and collaboration and enhance creativity and innovation.


Positive Passion, Expertise, Problem Solving, Permission to Fail, Playful Workand Iterate and Evolve are the subtopics in part 3. The DEO knows instinctively that he can only be successful if he pursues his passion. The DEO is careful to express his positive passion in a manner that is engaging and collaborative because he is dependent on the skills and supports of others. Besides, the DEO motivates the employees to follow their hearts resiliently and optimistically. The DEO continues to practice his expertise as part of running the business, rather than rise above his expertise as he gains power and authority. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to code adds to his credibility with his engineers and positively affects to the growth and development of Facebook. Moreover, the DEO’s expertise is a power that helps him to look ahead, and he also urges his company to constantly better itself or even reinvent if needed. Traditional managers and leaders see problems as negatives to be minimized. On the contrary, the DEO chooses problems carefully and uses them to explore and expand her creativity. Problem solving starts with framing the problem that means identifying what is wrong and what are the causes. DEO’s close observation and deep understanding help her to frame problems correctly, and as a result she can solve them easily. She can also solve problems creatively since she is skilled in divergent thinking which is defined as the ability to conceive of many options or alternatives. She has also mastered the acceptance of ambiguity in problem solving, so she helps the team to shift focus from the solution to process. The DEO does not fear failure. She actually givespermission to fail because she knows that sometimes it is inevitable and sometimes it is needed for success. Woody Allen says if you are not failing every now and again, it is a sign you are not doing anything very innovative. Academics and developmental scientists have studied play and its worth in every aspect of life including at work. The DEO permits play at work because it helps employees to be less judgmental and more receptive and creative. He integrates play into the company’s environment by welcoming toys and playrooms in the office. He also integrates it into the company’s processes by scheduling a planning meeting on the ski slopes or a strategy session at the zoo. The DEO feels that to iterate and evolve is natural and healthy. She also knows the benefits of an iterative approach to innovation, so she encourages employees to iterate and evolve.


The DEO has the following characteristics which are Integrity, Humility, Generosity and Originality. Integrity is very important, and the DEO who has integrity aligns his personal and business values in a way that is honest, reasonable and authentic. He is a role model of integrity, and he expects and encourages others to live and work with integrity. According to Oprah Winfrey real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did it or not. Arrogance is an exaggerated sense of superiority and dominance, whereas humility is an acknowledgement of limitations and connectedness. As a result, the DEO recognizes and values humility in himself and his colleagues. His humility helps him to generously praise others. Generositycreates value, so the DEO shares informantion because it is infinitely extendable, and sharing it does not decrease his store of it. Moreover, sharing information prompts diverse opinions and improves the overall level of discourse. He also shares connections by introducing friends and colleagues, and this is another example of win-win generosity. The DEO knows that originality does not mean adopting an eccentric stance or rebelling against everything. The DEO’s originality comes from integrating her full range of interests and talents and even including those that seem contradictory. It also comes from embracing her passions and preferences regardless of how the rest of the world reacts. DEO’s originality emerges naturally, and it demands mastery, adaptability and curiosity. Consequently, the DEO’s unique personality is easy to admire but difficult to imitate.

The two writers of the book Maria Giudice and Christopher Ireland support their ideas by writing some DEO Profiles. In every profile, they give real life examples by interviewing real DEOs such as Carl Bass (President and CEO of Autodesk), Jesse Ziff Cool (Entrepreneur and Author) and Chris Anderson (Curator for TED Conferences) just to name a few.

RISE of the DEO is an excellent book about leadership by design, and it provides guidance and workouts for leaders who want to develop themselves and become the DEOs of this century. Our world needs many passionate DEOs because there are global problems such as climate change, poverty, inequality and etc. DEOs with big hearts and humane visions should cooperate to make the world a much better place to live. I really enjoyed reading the book, and now writing about it, and I think it is worth reading. Enjoy the reading and your self-reflection process.

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

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