David Brooks’ NY Times Op-Ed piece, “In Praise of Dullness” provides data from numerous studies as to what does – and does not – make a good CEO. He reports that traits that are NOT associated with being an effective CEO include many things that seem counterintuitive, including: strong people skills, being a good listener, a good team builder, an enthusiastic colleague, a great communicator. He contends that warm, flexible, team-oriented and empathetic people are less likely to thrive as CEOs.
Rather Brooks reports that organized, dogged, anal-retentive, and slightly boring people are more likely to thrive as CEOs! Studies show that traits which correlate well with CEO success include emotional stability and conscientiousness; being dependable, making plans, and following through on those plans. He concludes with, “The CEOs that are most likely to succeed are humble, diffident, relentless, and a bit unidimensional. They are often not the most exciting people to be around.” I agree with Brooks’ conclusions on the need for doggedly following though on plans, delivering what you commit to. But I don’t agree that this has to make one unexciting!
I also feel that being CEO of a start up or a turn around requires additional traits mentioned in Steve Blank’s post titled “Founders and Dysfunctional Families.” Black mentions: tenacity (in the face of skepticism from investors, customers and friends); an ability to work against all rational odds to obtain financing and assemble a team; the ability to deal with crisis on a daily basis; being able to manage chaos and uncertainty; and having a bias for action. (I think this post shows I happen to have this bias.)
Finally, I feel that being an interim CEO requires yet additional traits and skills, as noted in the five bullets in this earlier post.
Two warnings: Blank is one of those writers who takes two pages to say what should be said in two sentences. And Brooks’s article is a quick, worthwhile read, though he spoils it in the last three paragraphs when he unnecessarily brings politics into the discussion.