Tough CEO’s Often Most Successful

According to George Anders’ Theory & Practice column in yesterday’s (November 19, 2007) Wall Street Journal, “a new study suggests that hard-nosed personal virtues such as persistence and efficiency count for more than “softer” strengths like teamwork or flexibility when it comes to assessing the traits of chief executives of successful companies.”

The study was done by three University of Chicago Business School Professors (Steven Kaplan, Mark Klebanov and Morten Sorensen) in collaboration with ghSmart, a consultancy that assesses CEO candidates on behalf of corporate clients.

Officials at ghSmart let the academics see the results of its four-hour assessment interviews, in which candidates are quizzed about their careers in detail. The consulting firm then takes apart those narratives, looking for glimpses of the candidate’s leadership style in areas ranging from interpersonal skills to intellect and motivation. Ultimately, candidates are scored on dozens of traits ranging from enthusiasm to their willingness to oust underperformers.

The method runs a risk of candidates tailoring their responses to what they think are the “right” answers. But Geoffrey Smart, chairman and CEO of ghSmart, thinks the risk is small because independent reference checks make sure the CEOs’ accounts hold true.

According to the University of Chicago researchers, here are five traits that matter:

  • Persistence
  • Attention to detail
  • Efficiency
  • Analytical skills
  • Setting high standards

and surprisingly, to me at least, are five traits that are less important:

  • Strong oral communication
  • Teamwork
  • Flexibility/adaptability
  • Enthusiasm
  • Listening skills

gh Smart’s report: Management Assessment Methods in Venture Capital: Toward a Theory of Human Capital Valuation (Executive Summary) (Full Report)

Wonder if ghSmart ever had the opportunity to interview C. Montgomery Burns? What an unfortunate similarity in above poses! ;-)

Cross posted in Center for Leader Development and Sea-Fever blogs.

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Peter A. Mello

Husband, father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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