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Taking a Deeper Look at High-Performing CEOs

April 19, 2018

High-performing CEOs

If you aspire to be a CEO, or to achieve high performance at any stage of your career, it’s time to look past the myths about CEOs and understand the behaviors associated with successful chief executives.

Kim Powell, a principal at consulting firm ghSmart, spoke with AMA’s Edgewise podcast program about the insights ghSmart has extracted from its database of leadership assessments with CEOs and from numerous interviews. Powell and Elena Botelho reported on the results of the firm’s CEO Genome Project in The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors That Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders (Currency, 2018).

Unlocking a realistic picture of CEOs

The ghSmart analysis looked at behaviors correlated with high performance as a CEO and those correlated with getting hired. As Powell notes in the AMA podcast, this led to some myth busting about CEOs. A few examples:

  • Pedigree was not correlated with performance. More CEOs in this analysis did not finish college than graduated from an Ivy League school.
  • Successful leaders did not necessarily fit the popular image of CEOs as extroverted, charismatic types. More than a third of the CEOs studied identified themselves as introverts. What’s more, said Powell, “the introverts were slightly more likely to exceed expectations than the rest of the data set.”
  • Successful CEOs had major blowups in their careers. According to Powell, just under half of the successful CEOs experienced events such as losing a job, destroying value, or not achieving intended synergies with a merger.

While many business leaders experience negative events, Powell offers a word of caution about the word “failure.” The successful CEOs in this analysis had a growth mindset. When discussing past experiences, they talked about the opportunity to grow, lessons they learned, and things they did differently. In contrast, leaders who used the term “failure” in talking about their past were less likely to be successful.

“Those that framed it as a failure, it did not seem they could reflect and learn and take those lessons and do it differently the next time,” Powell said.

Behaving like a CEO

In its research on more than 2,600 leaders, ghSmart found that four behaviors were correlated with high performance as a CEO: being decisive, being adaptable, delivering results reliably, and engaging others for results.

The encouraging news: These factors are “not inherent, God-given traits,” said Powell, but rather abilities that can be practiced. The successful CEOs in ghSmart’s analysis had built the behaviors across their careers. “The behaviors that were correlated to success are buildable muscles. These are muscles that can be strengthened,” she said.

Listen to the full podcast with Kim Powell.

Visit the AMA Edgewise page for podcast interviews on a variety of business topics.

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To build lasting success, you must be able to lead yourself, to engage and collaborate with others, and to continually renew your capabilities.
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About The Author

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.

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