We all know the stereotypes: Great CEOs are extroverted. They’re self-promoting. They’re risk-takers. But are these commonly held stereotypes true? Here are three key myths that contribute towards the idea of the perfect CEO and have examined their merit to determine whether success in the role can be attributed to these commonly held beliefs.
Myth #1: Charisma is the most important characteristic for a CEO
When challenged to think of characteristics that make up the perfect CEO, most people will likely respond with traits such as ambitious, results-oriented, driven, and above all charismatic. Charisma is a very attractive characteristic of a leader, but it correlates positively with narcissism. In fact, charisma and narcissism correlate more strongly than height and weight. Individuals who seem confident, bright, charismatic, interesting, and politically savvy tend to get promoted. Yet, once in power, these individuals have the potential to make self-serving decisions, place risky bets, and create chaos and ruin for their organizations. Highly charismatic leaders may seem more strategically ambitious but are less effective at leadership.
While charisma tends to correlate with career success, humility is a much better indicator of leadership effectiveness. “Modest managers understand their strengths and limitations, accept feedback, foster collaboration, and are more effective leaders” explained Jackie Sahm, Vice President of Integrated Solutions for Hogan Assessments, “Moreover, modest leaders tend to create engagement, retain good talent, have longer tenure than their arrogant counterparts, and the companies they oversee continue to perform well even after they leave because humble leaders often ensure a succession plan before they depart.”
Myth #2: A true CEO never fails
No matter how hard we may try to succeed, failure is a natural part of life. It is how one deals with failure that is the true mark of a good CEO, as opposed to if one fails. How people respond to the lessons of experience is of great importance to organizations and is a major determinant of both career and company success. “Many CEOs perceive and react to failure inappropriately and therefore have trouble learning from it, leading to a pattern of repeating past mistakes down the road. Those who assign or avoid blame in a self-serving way tend to suffer negative fallout, such as losing the trust or respect of their peers and employees” explains Jackie Sahm, “On the flip side, those who lack resilience or take self-criticism too far could suffer from career paralysis and stagnation.”
To foster and thrive in a productive leadership environment, CEOs need to recognize and overcome these tendencies and learn from both personal and professional failure. Fortunately, some steps can be taken to improve one’s response to failure, such as cultivating self-awareness, seeking feedback from trusted sources, and embracing new strategies to bounce back from setbacks can all help to improve a CEO’s response to failure.
Myth #3: CEOs are supernatural
“Best-in-class CEOs tend to stand out in four ways that all come down to inspiring trust and followership; none of which are supernatural virtues.” states Jackie Sahm, “They demonstrate sound Judgment, Integrity, Credibility and Support.” What these four qualities have in common is that the “perfect” CEO tends to inspire trust on multiple levels by balancing competing demands that exist in a complex state of tension. Be visionary, yet humble; support your people, yet hold them accountable; be decisive and quick, yet precise. The role of CEO is an exercise in paradox, equivalent to a tightrope walk on a high-wire. To paraphrase Darwin: it is not the strongest that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.