The authors conducted a 10-year study (dubbed the “CEO Genome Project”) to identify what sets successful CEOs apart. They tapped into a database containing more than 17,000 assessments of C-suite executives, including 2,000 CEOs and “sifted through that information, looking for what distinguished candidates who got hired as CEOs from those who didn’t, and those who excelled in the role from those who underperformed.”
So what did they find? As per the authors, successful CEOs display the following four behaviours (to varying extents but more than the average Joe would display in these areas):
- Deciding with speed and conviction: “….High-performing CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains. In our data, people who were described as “decisive” were 12 times more likely to be high-performing CEOs. Good CEOs realize that a wrong decision may be better than no decision at all.”
- Engaging for impact: “Once CEOs set a clear course for the business, they must get buy-in among their employees and other stakeholders. We found that strong performers balance keen insight into their stakeholders’ priorities with an unrelenting focus on delivering business results. They start by developing an astute understanding of their stakeholders’ needs and motivations, and then get people on board by driving for performance and aligning them around the goal of value creation. In our data, CEOs who deftly engaged stakeholders with this results orientation were 75% more successful in the role.”
- Adapting proactively: “Our analysis shows that CEOs who excel at adapting are 6.7 times more likely to succeed. CEOs themselves told us over and over that this skill was critical. When asked what differentiates effective CEOs, Dominic Barton, global managing partner of McKinsey & Company, immediately offered: “It’s dealing with situations that are not in the playbook. As a CEO you are constantly faced with situations where a playbook simply cannot exist. You’d better be ready to adapt. Most CEOs know they have to divide their attention among short-, medium-, and long-term perspectives, but the adaptable CEOs spent significantly more of their time—as much as 50%—thinking about the long term.”
- Delivering reliably: “…the ability to reliably produce results was possibly the most powerful of the four essential CEO behaviors. In our sample, CEO candidates who scored high on reliability were twice as likely to be picked for the role and 15 times more likely to succeed in it.”
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