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What you like in a CEO candidate may not deliver results

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 consulting firm ghSMART. The study, recently featured in Harvard Business Review, 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 data scientists, economists and psychologists, pored over ghSMART’s interview data representing more than 2,000 CEO candidates seeking employment with companies of all sizes across all major industry sectors. Additionally, follow-up interviews with boards and investors provided a window into executive behavior statistically predictive of leaders’ success.

“This study debunks some of the common criteria for selecting leaders,” said Jim Goodnight, CEO of  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.”

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.

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