Do you think only management superstars are successful? Are celebrity CEOs the only executives to emulate? When you think about all the strong businesses in the world and that you never hear a word about their executives, the answer is quite clear. The answer is ‘no.’
Many books and articles have been written about the characteristics of an ideal chief executive officer. And with the passing of Steve Jobs, there is perhaps even more interest in what makes for a great manager.
However, in a paper entitled Which CEO Characteristics and Abilities Matter to be published in the Journal of Finance, the authors Kaplan and his colleagues find “…that efficient and persistent CEOs achieve more success than executives with different talents. CEOs who are not efficient and persistent are much more likely to falter.”
Kaplan and his team studied more than 300 CEO candidates in firms funded by private-equity investors, with each CEO being interviewed and rated on 30 characteristics and abilities. What they learned is quite heartening:
- Many of the characteristics they assumed would correlate with success did not! For example, interpersonal abilities ‘proved particularly inconsequential.’
- Notably, ‘analytic ability and being organized’ were related to success, while ‘general skills that were neither interpersonal nor execution-oriented were [somewhat] related to success.’
- Execution-type talent — ‘those related to persistence and execution’ — proved significantly predictive of high performance.
- “In fact, CEOs with these skills succeeded 75 – 90 percent of the time, but CEOs who lacked them succeeded less than 50 percent of the time.”
- Successful CEOs “…stuck with assignments until they were complete, were proactive about achieving results, and completed projects within short periods of time.”
- Lacking execution skills, other qualities simply did not matter.
Overall, the study found that ‘good CEOs get things done despite very different personalities.’ Top leaders, ‘…while humble, show unwavering resolve…are persistent and proactive.’
Maybe we need to look more closely at our peers and find the real stars among them. They are out there doing really good work and not giving up.