Raising the Bar

Passion over personality: Makings of a great leader

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Each week CNBC's "Raising the Bar" series will provide insight into the minds of business leaders as they talk candidly in some of Manhattan's most interesting watering holes about everything from making mistakes to making it big. 

Conventional wisdom suggests there are certain personality traits that make a great leader. But executives at two consumer-facing brands say it may come down to one thing: Passion.

Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method cleaning products, never found passion in cleaning. It was instead a love of design that drove him to transform the industry, which has a reputation for dowdy packaging. Leslie Blodgett, on the other hand, has long been obsessed with makeup. So it was fitting to find her at the helm of billion-dollar cosmetics company bareMinerals. 

Though their stories were different, the two realized it's not so much where passion stems from, as long as it exists.

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"We approached it from such different places," Ryan told Blodgett at the Electric Room bar at Dream Downtown Hotel in Manhattan. "Where you came in through passion and I came in by applying passion to a place that I was very unpassionate about."    

The two agreed on looking for very much the same when it came to building a team. At Method, rather than focusing on a particular personality trait for hires, Ryan instead kept an eye out for a "really strong point of passion in a really diverse set of skills." Blodgett admittedly made the mistake of hiring people who reminded her of herself, but quickly realized "you can't have everyone be the same," she said.

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As important as diversity is for leaders and their companies, Ryan and Blodgett agreed there is no place for hubris—and that attitude starts at the top. 

"I used to have my desk right next to customer service," Ryan said. "I wanted to hear those calls coming in and just be as close [to the customer] as possible." 

Method's San Francisco headquarters has no reception office. Instead, each worker plays the role of receptionist about once a month, giving them the chance to interact more directly with customers. Blodgett has taken a similar tack at bareMinerals. 

"We have our employees in the corporate office work in the boutiques during the holiday season," she said.

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Both executives have faced their fair share of difficulties in leadership roles, and quickly realized a CEO can't please everyone. 

"It took me a long time to realize at the end of the day it's better to overserve a certain group of people and just do a better job for them than anybody else," Ryan said. "There is no way you're going to make everybody happy and if you do, the toll on you is going to be tremendous."

The cocktails


2 ounces tequila

0.75 ounce agave syrup

0.75 ounce lime juice

Shake well and serve over ice in a double rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.


2 ounces Bulleit whiskey

0.5 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir over ice until chilled. Serve in rocks glass. Garnish with an orange wheel or a cherry.

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