Introverts are more likely to be successful CEOs, study claims

Extroverts may do better in interviews, but oft-overlooked introverts actually make the best CEOs, new research suggests

Rachel Hosie
Tuesday 18 April 2017 17:09 BST

Getting up early, wearing the same clothes every day, eating eggs for breakfast… there are various thing we’re told CEOs do that may hold the keys to their success.

But what if the one thing the most successful have in common is in fact not something they do but the way they are?

The results of a new study certainly suggest this is the case. And the shared attribute? Introversion.

Researchers from ghSmart, a Chicago-based consultancy firm, spent ten years analysing the personalities of 2,000 CEOs and reached the conclusion that the majority of the successful ones were introverts.

This flies in the face of the image most people have of a typical charismatic, confident, extroverted leader.

The study, called the CEO Genome Project, includes a test anyone can do to find out whether they have what it takes to be a CEO.

“When we flip on the news, or check our social media feeds, we are bombarded with images of well-groomed, Ivy league-educated icons of the Fortune 100,” the study authors write. “And we can’t help but think, I could never be them.

“In fact, they come from surprisingly varied backgrounds. Of the six million CEOs of companies in America, only seven per cent went to an elite school—and eight per cent didn't graduate college at all. Some are immigrants; many worked their way up through the ranks from entry-level positions.”

To reach their conclusions, the researchers made a database of assessments, including comprehensive performance appraisals and extensive biographical information, which documented everything from behavioural patterns and demographic information to career history and previous job performance.

From these findings, they were able to work out who amongst us are most likely to become a CEO.

They found that the four most important traits for CEOs are:

  1. Reaching out to stakeholders
  2. Being highly adaptable to change
  3. Being reliable and predictable rather than showing exceptional, and perhaps not repeatable, performance
  4. Making fast decisions with conviction, if not necessarily perfect ones.

About half of the candidates had at least one of these characteristics.

“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.”

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