Describe the types of power Elizabeth Holmes used as leader of Theranos? In what ways did the use of power give rise to her stature? In what ways was it her downfall? What other leadership theory can you apply to the story?

Effective leadership is vital to the success or failure of an organization. A leaders traits, motivations, decisions, and behaviors affect both the organization and its…

Effective leadership is vital to the success or failure of an organization. A leaders traits, motivations, decisions, and behaviors affect both the organization and its stakeholders. At Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes experienced success as the CEO of a start-up company, but ultimately it was her decisions and actions as a leader that lead to her downfall.
The video shared last week of Simon Sinek used Elizabeth Holmess idol, Steve Jobs, as a prime example of leadership. According to Sinek, people buy Apple products because they are more innovative than their competition. They have the same resources as other tech companies but seem to have something different. On the surface, the same appeared to be true of Theranos. It was the hottest company in Silicon Valley at the time. Everyone wanted to work there. Elizabeth was a female entrepreneur in biotech. She was trying to put forward a mission to make health care accessible, affordable, and transparent.
One of Elizabeth Holmess most significant strengths could be an example of referent power since it was her personality that enabled her to draw people in. She had a knack for getting influential people on her side. (i.e., George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, James Mattis) It was considered a great privilege to work there because of what they were aiming to accomplish. Like Sinek said, people dont care what you do; they care why you do it! Elizabeth Holmes had a mission that she was extremely passionate about. However, she was less focused on collaboration and influence. She tried to lead Theranos instead with command and control, bullying anyone who attempted to speak out.
Elizabeth Holmes tried to exert expert power by claiming to have specialized knowledge of a revolutionary new blood test process requiring just a drop of blood. In this regard, she was like the Emperor, who wore no clothes. She was very much an authoritarian who made all of the decisions, regardless of anyone elses input. Elizabeth Holmes silenced employees who spoke out. One former employee, Tyler Schultz, was the grandson of a Theranos Board Member, former Secretary of State George Schultz. Even his family initially didnt believe him because of the way Elizabeth Holmes sought to discredit dissenters.
British politician and writer John Morley said, No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character. Character was Elizabeth Holmess downfall. Leadership is as much about competence as it is about character. The Theranos tests didnt work as well as she claimed they did, but they did run SOME tests. Even before this prompt, I was captivated by the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos story. I listened to The Dropout podcast and watched The Inventor on HBO. In terms of what other leadership theory can you apply to the story, I cant help but wonder what could have happened to Theranos and the blood tests if the leadership style, etc. had been different. If there was someone else who lead with her (other than Sunni Balwani) could they have helped her make better choices in terms of truthfulness or embraced failures as a means to reach success? If she hadnt lied in such a colossal fashion, could the company have achieved long-term success? It will be interesting in the future to see if this technology ever comes to fruition under different leadership with a different leader. Maybe there will be further study and comparison in the future.


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