What makes a great CEO or Leader?

You may be surprised…The classic version of a successful CEO: charismatic, six-foot-tall white man from a top university – a strategic visionary, a straight vertical career path, and the ability to make perfect decisions under pressure.

How many such people do you know? How many such CEO’s do you know?

Today’s business is faster, smarter, and, in many ways, younger than ever before. You’re likely either in a tech-based business – or you’re about to choose – or be forced — to transform your business to a more ‘digital’ model. Or, you’re already doing so. That takes real courage, conviction, investment, and leadership.

What should that leadership look like?

A recent 10-year study by ghSmart used their proprietary database containing more than 17,000 assessments of C-suite executives, including 2,000 CEOs, to create the CEO Genome Project. (Google it. It is absolutely rich with insight and information!). The database has in-depth information on each leader’s career history, business results, and behavioral patterns. It isn’t theory, it’s a very powerful research of real results.

Some surprising findings:

  • Introverts are slightly more likely than extroverts to surpass the expectations of their boards/investors.
  • Virtually all CEOs had made substantial mistakes, and almost half of them had at least one major career blowup.
  • Educational degree (or not) didn’t correlate to performance: Less than 10% of the high-performing CEOs they studied had an undergraduate Ivy League education, and around 8% of them didn’t graduate from college at all.
  • Confidence in interviews did not matter.
    • High confidence more than doubles a candidate’s chances of being chosen as CEO but provides no advantage in performance on the job.
  • There are four specific behaviors that prove critical to their performance.
    • The research and experience suggest that when leaders who aspire to the CEO’s office deliberately develop these behaviors, they dramatically raise the odds that they’ll become a high-performing chief executive.

In each of our next 4 articles, we will address each of these behaviors in depth. In the meantime, some food for thought:

The Four Behaviors

  1. Deciding with speed and conviction.
  • No need for ‘all the data’ and comfortable with ambiguity.
  1. Engaging for impact.
  • High EQ, knowing what motivates various stakeholders, and how to work best with those motivations.
  1. Adapting proactively.
  • Stuff happens. How you respond to the off-script stuff matters most.
  1. Delivering reliably.
  • At the end of the day, it’s all about results! Systems and processes matter.





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I’m a better leader, husband and father as a result of the work I do with Stephen. I’ve engaged the programme with multiple teams over 12 years, and we continue to generate exceptional business results. I see the programme as my gift for all those who I’ve worked with and led. Without exception, they feel much better about themselves and the world they live in - delivering measurable business improvement through engagement as inspiring leaders of high-performing teams.

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