Great CEOs never micro-manage

2008

If you have ambitions to make it to the boardroom yet find yourself holding personal grudges and double-checking orders for paper clips, it might be worth taking a long, hard look at whether you really are cut out for the top.

A study by recruitment firm Personnel Decisions International has come up a range of key attributes and characteristics that, it argued, distinguishes successful chief executives from other managers.

High energy levels, a desire to be in charge and an ability to cut through complex issues to what is really important were three of the most important attributes that set apart those destined to be CEOs from other executives, it found.

Conversely, those who exhibited traits of being passive-aggressive or micro-management were less likely to make it to CEO level.

The research analysed data from more than 9,000 senior executives and first-level leaders and compared it with nearly 150 CEOs in order to find out how the CEOs were different from other leaders and what characteristics made them successful.

"We wanted to examine what distinguishes the select few who make it to the top; what do they possess that others lack?," said PDI managing director Simon Callow.

"Today's CEOs have the weight of the world on their shoulders – keeping a business viable and successful in changing economic circumstances, meeting board and shareholder expectations and predicting consumer preferences that could change the direction of the company. This research gives us some insight into what it takes to lead at this level," he added.

According to the study, CEOs demonstrated a greater ability to understand complex or ambiguous information by analysing and detecting systematic themes.

"The nature of the role requires CEOs to be able to digest a great deal of information quickly and determine which elements of it indicate trends or themes that are important to the business," said Callow.

"Identifying what is vital from a mass of random extraneous information is an essential skill in running a business and predicting potential challenges," Callow continued.

Another trait that CEOs shared was higher energy levels. Looking at the daily schedule of today's CEOs it was very clear this was a necessary trait for success.

"CEOs need to thrive on hectic and demanding schedules and not depend on downtime to recharge," said Callow.

Two other characteristics that CEOs displayed more than other leaders were the desire to be in charge and the ability to be persuasive.

"You have to want to be at the top to be a successful CEO. This is not a role you want to fall into accidentally," said Callow.

"Top leaders are comfortable calling the shots, persuading others about the decisions they think are right and taking the responsibility that goes along with the power position," he added.

Of course, possessing these traits was not necessarily a guarantee that you would make it to the top – having the right set of career experiences was equally critical in helping you get that leg up, he stressed.

"For those with their eye on the CEO job, experiences that are high risk with potential high return for the company and experiences that are highly visible throughout the organisation tend to help an individual be prepared to take on the responsibilities of leading the company," said Callow.

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