10-year Harvard Study Concludes That Introverts Make Better CEOs

The image most people have of a straight-from-central-casting CEO is usually something like the following: An extroverted, charismatic, confident executive who climbed a mistake-free ladder to the top with a degree from an elite school.

But a new 10-year study from a leadership advisory firm and economists from two business schools, published in this month’s Harvard Business Review, finds that the most successful chief executives often don’t fit that mold.

The researchers behind the study, called the CEO Genome Project, used a database of assessments — comprehensive performance appraisals and extensive biographical information — of 17,000 C-suite executives, including 2,000 CEOs. The database, created by the consultancy ghSmart, includes everything from career history to behavioral patterns to how the executives performed in past jobs, decisions they’ve made and demographic information.

Their analysis, which included help from statisticians, data scientists and financial analysts, examined a sample of 930 of those CEOs to come up with the traits and patterns that most predicted which ones became a CEO. They also gathered information on the performance of 212 of them to compare how top-performers’ behaviors lined up with the traits that tend to get CEOs hired.

What they found surprised them. A little more than half of the CEOs who did better than expected in the minds of investors and directors were actually introverts, not the usual gregarious CEO known for glad-handing customers.

“The biggest aha, overall, is that some of the things that make CEOs attractive to the board have no bearing on their performance,” said Elena Lytkina Botelho, a partner at ghSmart and a co-founder of the project. “Like most human beings, they get seduced by charismatic, polished presenters. They simply do better in interviews.”

Botelho says she doesn’t necessarily think introverts are always better performers, but that they may be more prevalent, and do better in her sample, because boards are so attracted to them.

“I’ve been in the room and had directors express the concern — ‘this person is such a strong introvert, how will they really lead?’ ” she said. Similarly, candidates who displayed a lot of confidence had more than double the chance of being chosen as CEO, the study found, even though particularly confident CEOs were no more likely to show better performance once they got the job.

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SOURCE: Jena McGregor 
The Washington Post