Last week I wrote about the CEO Genome project by leadership advisory firm ghGmart. The #1 trait they identified in CEO success was making fast decisions with conviction, if not necessarily perfect ones.

The other three are served today. They are:

  • reaching out to stakeholders;
  • being highly adaptable to change;
  • being reliable and predictable rather than showing exceptional, and perhaps not repeatable, performance.

The first trait here – the second most-important once – involves highly tuned communication skills, and herein is an interesting discussion, as just over half of the CEOs who did better than expected in the minds of investors and directors were actually introverts. The study found that in the recruitment process, candidates who displayed a lot of confidence had more than double the chance of being chosen as CEO, even though particularly confident CEOs were no more likely to show better performance once they got the job. Don’t ignore the stronger quieter types – think former All Black captain and world champion Richie McCaw.

Two other findings are interesting, according to the Washington Post report on the study. “Nearly all of the executives in their sample who were candidates for a CEO job had some kind of major mistake, the project found, such as overpaying for an acquisition or making a wrong hire, in their assessment. Nearly half of them also had what the researchers called a career “blowup” that pushed them out of a job or cost the business a large amount of money — and three­ quarters of that group went on to actually become a CEO.

And here’s one in the eye for the Ivy Leagues. Only 7 per cent of the best­ performing CEOs — who ran companies from Fortune 10 behemoths to those with just $US10 million ($13.2 million) in annual sales — had an Ivy League degree, despite the conventional wisdom that pedigree matters. “There was zero correlation between pedigree and ultimate performance,” said Elena Lytkina Botelho, a partner at ghSmart and a co­founder of the project, while acknowledging that number could be higher if they were just looking at large Fortune 500 firms.

Studies such as the CEO Genome project are grist to the mill for my investment in and new chairmanship of the business education company Unfiltered. Subversion of captains of industries and MBA programs is high on my agenda. “Winning the world from the edge” takes on new meaning.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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