Research Finds Consistent Personality Traits in CEOs

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Sep 21, 2017
CEO

A new study says that a certain set of consistent personality traits tend to appear in those picked to be CEOs, versus CFOs or COOs. The paper, distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at over 2,600 executive assessments conducted by managerial assessment firm ghSmart that scored the characteristics of top C-suite candidates.

The study took the 30 characteristics the evaluations measured and derived four key factors with intuitive interpretations: their general overall talent ("general ability), their balance of execution versus interpersonal skills ("execution vs. interpersonal"), whether they're more charismatic or analytical ("charisma vs. analytic), and the degree to which they're more big picture versus fine detail thinkers ("strategic vs. managerial details"). 

The researchers then tracked the candidates' subsequent career paths to determine whether they were hired for the positions they were assessed for, and whether they ultimately became top-level executives, particularly CEO. What they found was that those chosen to be CEOs tend to have consistent traits that other C-suite executives did not have, which may explain why so few make the jump from, say, CFO to CEO. 

"We find that CEO candidates tend to have greater general talent, greater execution ability, more charisma, and greater strategic ability. In contrast, CFO candidates tend to have lower general talent, less charisma, and be more analytical and with a focus on managerial details. In short, according to our classification, the characteristics of CEO and CFO candidates are opposites," said the paper. 

It noted, though, that hired candidates for all of these positions, though, tend to have greater interpersonal skills than the average assessed candidates. It also found that, while there are no meaningful differences in the four factors between men and women, female candidates are less likely to become CEOs, holding these four factors constant. 

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