What you like in a CEO candidate may not deliver the results you want 

Study by ghSMART, informed by SAS analysis of hundreds of CEOs, pinpoints traits of top performers

Attributes that often get someone hired as CEO may not be the ones that drive success once they are at the helm of the company. That’s one of many provocative insights in a study by elite consulting firm ghSMART. The study, featured in Harvard Business Review’s May/June edition, identifies characteristics that differentiate the most effective leaders.

ghSMART’s 10-year CEO Genome Project provides incisive – even counterintuitive – insight into executives whose leadership was rated most beneficial to their organizations. The most valuable traits: decisiveness, reliability, adapting proactively, and influencing stakeholders to drive results for the business. Degrees and pedigree showed no impact on performance, and fiercely independent leaders trailed behind in results.

Fourteen researchers, including SAS data scientists, leading academics, economists at the University of Chicago, and, psychologists pored over ghSMART interview data representing more than 2,000 CEO candidates seeking employment with companies of all sizes across all major industry sectors. Additionally, the team conducted follow- up interviews with boards and investors to determine how over 200 CEOs performed. SAS® Analytics applied to the interview documents provided a window into executive behaviors statistically predictive of leaders’ success.

“This study debunks some of the common criteria for selecting leaders,” said Jim Goodnight, CEO of analytics leader SAS. “It not only examines why CEOs are hired, but also what happened afterward. Behaviors that land the job don’t always benefit the employer. Unexpected truths like this are hidden in every kind of data. Analytics can surface them.”

SAS and ghSMART partnered on the project after Elena Botelho, founder and co-leader of the CEO Genome project, and ghSMART CEO Geoff Smart interviewed Goodnight for Smart’s book Power Score: Your Formula for Leadership Success (Random House 2015). Precisely mapping leadership excellence appealed to both sides.

“We have been advising and studying CEOs for over 22 years,” said Botelho. “SAS analysts and SAS Analytics technologies augmented our research methods, enabling us to glean new insights from the full extent of our data for the first time. Breakthrough findings from this work are already helping our clients avoid painful mistakes and accelerate to success in CEO selection and development, as well as in navigating other leadership roles.”

Four characteristics separate the cream of the crop

Researchers sifted through data using SAS data mining, machine learning and other analytical techniques and interactively explored results with SAS Visual Analytics. These are the attributes that rose to the top for candidates who performed best as CEO:

1.      They make decisions with speed and conviction. They understand that a wrong decision often yields better results than no decision.

2.      They engage and influence stakeholders toward the goals of the enterprise.

3.      They proactively adapt their style and their strategies to take advantage of opportunities and mitigate risks on the fly, as conditions warrant. And they aren’t daunted by setbacks.

4.      They want to be counted on and to design their organizations for reliable performance.

What’s in your leadership DNA?

In their book The CEO Next Door: How to Get To The Top and Succeed, set for release by Crown Publishing in early 2018, CEO advisors Elena Botelho and Kim Powell provide evidence-based career advice for those aspiring to the C-suite and anyone looking to reach their full career potential. For a limited time, you can preorder the book here.

About ghSMART

ghSMART is the premier leadership advisory firm to CEOs, investors and boards. Drawing on two decades of experience with over 17,000 senior executives, ghSMART helps clients achieve their top leadership priorities, including CEO Succession, M&A, top talent selection and development, and senior team effectiveness.

About SAS

SAS is a global leader in data and AI. With SAS software and industry-specific solutions, organizations transform data into trusted decisions. SAS gives you THE POWER TO KNOW®.

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