What makes an Australian CEO?

2006

As if to confirm popular stereotypes, a new study comparing Australian CEOs with their counterparts in the U.S. has found that the Americans are more conservative and buttoned down, while the Australians are more fun-loving and risk-taking.

The findings are based on results of three personality assessments administered by U.S.-based Hogan Assessment Systems (HAS) to 55 Australian CEOs running organisations with annual revenues ranging from $2 million to $450 million and employing between 10 and 8,500 employees. Almost a quarter of these were women.

The Australians were compared with a database of 8,490 U.S. business leaders representing a range of organisations and business sectors.

"The Australians and Americans fit a standard profile for managers and executives – hard-working, socially skilled, and self-confident – but there are interesting and subtle differences," said HAS president, Robert Hogan.

In general, U.S. leaders emerged as conservative and cautious managers who are more likely to "do it by the book." In contrast, the Australians tend to be more flexible, risk-taking and action-oriented.

Hogan added that the Australians also score higher in the areas of hedonism and social engagement and thus appear to be more "fun loving." The Americans scored higher on valuing learning for the sake of learning, while the Australians prefer their learning to have a more practical application.

The study also suggested that compared to the U.S. business leaders, Australian CEOs placed greater value on team building skills, leadership and strategic thinking while being more focused on business and less interested in abstract discussions of theory and strategy.

Meanwhile, Australians have a greater sense of urgency and willingness to learn from mistakes and are more willing to confront problem performers and to disagree with their bosses.

Overall, the study found that while the CEOs tend to share some key behavioural traits, they also have at least two or three potential derailers, which, if well managed, can be great strengths, but if not well managed, can derail people, relationships and performance.

As a result, they are successful, in part, because of their high levels of self-awareness and self-management enable them to control these potentially damaging factors.

One the positive side, Australian CEOs are characterised as having a burning desire to be successful and to outperform others. They have strong interpersonal skills that help them build, motivate and sustain high performing teams. They create positive, sometimes charismatic impressions on others that create energy and 'buy in' to the CEO's agenda and have the maturity and emotional strength to cope with problems and set backs.

"Australian CEOs are appropriately conscientious, reliable, structured and they plan ahead – neither control freaks / micro managers nor compulsive risk takers living on the edge," the report suggests.

But this upbeat assessment of Australian corporate leadership may not be something that many Australians themselves would recognise. Last year's annual SEEK Survey of Employee Satisfaction and Motivation in Australia found that almost seven out of 10 Australians do not believe that their management is open and honest, while research by organisational development specialist Human Synergistics in 2003 characterised Australian bosses as "indecisive conformist panderers".

Far from being "conscientious, reliable, structured" the Human Synergistics survey found that managers' behaviour bred a culture that encouraged people to treat rules as more important than ideas, switch priorities to please others, avoid taking any blame for problems, follow orders even when they were wrong, defer decisions to people higher up the food chain and not rock the boat.

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