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4 Things Successful CEOs Do (that Executive Assessments Can Measure)

August 18, 2017

I recently read an intriguing article that spoke about the four components that set successful CEOs apart from their lower performing counterparts. There were two very interesting points in the article. First, the finding that hiring managers (in this case, the Board of Directors) who are hiring/appointing the next CEO do not have much success. They make a classic hiring mistake: they look for extroverted and engaging candidates with Ivy League educations that look good both in person and on paper. In the absence of other information, I would agree that these seem like good data points to use to make a hiring decision. In reality, though, many of these CEOs are not actually successful in these roles and about a quarter of their departures are involuntary. We know, and this confirms, that this type of selection criteria just doesn’t work.

executive assessments identify successful CEOs.jpg

There is a reason why unstructured interviews, resume reviews, educational obtainment, and background checks typically don’t predict future behavior or performance. The reason is that these criteria are largely unrelated to what it takes to be successful as a CEO. 

Of course, getting accepted to an Ivy League school (and graduating) is impressive and it takes a certain type of person to be able to do that. However, almost all the CEOs in this study were rated high in work ethic. Sheer determination and dedication can help you get through school but these characteristics don’t necessarily make you a great executive. As we all know, executives need to influence and engage their leadership team to drive the company’s mission. Sheer willpower is not going to do it.     

Research conducted by ghSmart’s CEO Genome Project found the following traits to be related to CEO success. (It should be noted, though, that it is hard for a CEO to have all of these traits, but the more they have, the better.)

4 Traits of Successful CEOs

  1. Quickly and confidently make decisions

  2. Engage others

  3. Adapt through learning agility

  4. Deliver results

Hiring leaders with these traits will increase the chances that your leaders will succeed in their roles, increasing retention and driving positive outcomes for your organization. And, good news! There are reliable and valid ways to measure these traits in potential CEO candidates. 

Enter: Executive Assessments

Many organizations have a structured assessment process in place for the positions that they hire for in high volumes (these tend to be lower level positions). But, they tend to forget or not bother using assessment tools at the highest and, arguably, most important level to assess, the C-Suite. Putting an assessment process in place can typically double or triple your chances of hiring the best CEO.  If more boards and organizations were to use these types of processes, we would easily see CEO success rates grow. 

"Putting an assessment process in place can typically double or triple your chances of hiring the best CEO."

We know that implementing a structured executive assessment process is not always an easy feat, and the challenge falls on all HR practitioners, especially the CHROs who have a voice in this process.  In order to have a more consistent and reliable assessment as part of the hiring process, there must be buy-in from the board. Without their buy-in and confidence in the assessment and selection tools, board members will likely dismiss them and evaluate simpler criteria, like educational background or previous experience. But, to see a positive impact, CHROs should be well versed in the best practices in executive selection and they must come to the table to drive implementation of these processes.  If not, the board or selection committee will be left to their own devices – which we have unfortunately seen to be less than ideal. 

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Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.