• Be open-minded about where the next leader might come from. I said the first criterion was probably the hardest, but come to think of it this one is equally tough in its own way. Just for instance—I’m just saying, understand—imagine if a law firm permitted itself to look at candidates for leader from outside the firm. You are at liberty to tell me that would be the most hare-brained idea ever for your firm right now, but I challenge you to explain why it’s inconceivable for all law firms under all circumstances.Perhaps more realistically given the (im)maturity of our leadership selection processes ca. 2016, you might at least consider candidates who weren’t a direct report to the outgoing chair, from deeper down in the ranks of the firm. When Bryan Cave selected Terry Pritchard to succeed Don Lents a couple of years ago, there was as much ink spilled on the fact that she was not from the St. Louis office as that she is a she. Really?, I recall thinking.
  • Go deep to understand each candidate. Charan provides the example of the deep-dive process engaged in at an un-named “large midwestern insurance company” when the selection process came down to the finals. Having identified two internal and three external candidates as contenders, the six search committee members broke into two teams and spent an entire weekend exhaustively interviewing each candidate. At the end of the weekend they compared notes and found that even though each team had taken a quite different approach to talking with the candidates, they had reached remarkably parallel conclusions. One outsider, for example, had truly imaginative ideas for taking the company into new areas, but they weren’t confident he could execute. Another had always built via acquisition and had no track record with organic growth. Etc.You can see where this is going: They ended up rejecting all five and starting over.

    That’s what it means to “go deep.”

  • This brings us to allowing imperfections: Horrors. Now, of course there are imperfections and there are imperfections. If an individual scores highly on everything we’ve just discussed but would benefit, say, from some executive coaching? Shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. If your CEO-in-waiting is strong on strategy and communication but weak on finance or operations, make sure your CFO and COO are world-class and that your CEO is ready to be trained. Frankly, this happens all the time, especially in venture capital land, where investors often require the entrepreneur/founder to step down or step into a dual role so “an adult” can help navigate the rapids.

The Stamoulis article, equally valuable, takes a different approach: It goes quantitative.

They created “detailed psychometric profiles” of 200 global CEOs using three time-tested psychometric instruments measuring traits such as leadership style, interpersonal skills, resiliency, independence in thinking and decision-making style. They then validated the “CEO-like” characteristics by comparing those profiles to the profiles of non-CEO senior executives in a database of 9,000 leaders.

As luck would have it, CEO’s are different. The bottom line:

Our analysis revealed that CEOs differ meaningfully from the overall executive population across many personality attributes. Two traits in particular stand out: an ability to embrace appropriate risks and a bias toward acting and capitalizing on opportunities. We consider these traits the “essence” of the CEO personality. In other words, a CEO is significantly less cautious and more likely to take action when compared to other senior executives.

They also found six other statistically significant traits on which CEOs differed:

Related Articles

Email Delivery

Get Our Latest Articles Delivered to your inbox +

Sign-up for email

Be the first to learn of Adam Smith, Esq. invitation-only events, surveys, and reports.

Get Our Latest Articles Delivered to Your Inbox

Like having coffee with Adam Smith, Esq. in the morning (coffee not included).

Oops, we need this information
Oops, we need this information
Oops, we need this information

Thanks and a hearty virtual handshake from the team at Adam Smith, Esq.; we’re glad you opted to hear from us.

What you can expect from us:

  • an email whenever we publish a new article;
  • respect and affection for our loyal readers. This means we’ll exercise the strictest discretion with your contact info; we will never release it outside our firm under any circumstances, not for love and not for money. And we ourselves will email you about a new article and only about a new article.

Welcome onboard! If you like what you read, tell your friends, and if you don’t, tell us.

PS: You know where to find us so we invite you to make this a two-way conversation; if you have an idea or suggestion for something you’d like us to discuss, drop it in our inbox. No promises that we’ll write about it, but we will faithfully promise to read your thoughts carefully.