The Perfect CEO

CEO ORIG WEB SMLRecently attending a network event complete with a program, the essence of a quote from an HBR statement became glaringly apparent – along with the quasi-evidence that a stereotypical CEO is doing damage to an entire industry. Here is the scene at the front of the room consisting of about eight or so current and past CEOs and executives.

  • All male
  • All white
  • All around 5’7” to 6’ in height
  • All between 50 and 70 years of age
  • Similar educations
  • All of a certain religious sect (they made fun of those who weren’t – all in good fun wink, wink).
  • All from the same industry

In fact, the entire room of about 100 to 125 people fit this description. Here’s the kicker, the industry is dying a slow but almost certain death. Here’s the quote from HBR on the CEO Genome Project:

“In the more than two decades we’ve spent advising boards, investors, and chief executives themselves on CEO transitions, we have seen a fundamental disconnect between what boards think makes for an ideal CEO and what actually leads to high performance. That disconnect starts with an unrealistic yet pervasive stereotype, which is shaped in large part by the official bios of Fortune 500 leaders. It holds that a successful CEO is a charismatic six-foot-tall white man with a degree from a top university, who is a strategic visionary with a seemingly direct-to-the-top career path and the ability to make perfect decisions under pressure.”

This article is not about diversity although the CEO Genome Project may be screaming that at the top of its statistics filled lungs. This article is more about finding the best CEO and looking beyond the good ole’ boys network or stereotypes that are no longer working for American business.

Another statement that originates in an interview about the CEO Genome Project goes like this:

“The most frustrating thing is every time you step into the CEO chair, you build a new team. It takes about 18 months every time to build the team and get everyone on the same page. A CEO may have two or three years at most before someone expects results. If you don’t start building your team on day one, you are building someone else’s team.”  So, is a revolution necessary in the hunt for finding the perfect CEO? Well, maybe not a revolution exactly, but some common-sense changes might be in order.

Here’s the thing. The old boys network and selecting people like ourselves is the easy way out. Obviously, from The Genome Study and the above statement of the time it takes to reach goals, these are not the best ways. What are some better or at least more commonsense ways to find the perfect CEO?

  • First, perfection is not attainable. In fact, the CEO Genome Project reveals that all CEOs have made some type of material error, over 40% had a career “blowup”, and others made job ending errors that were costly to the organization.
  • Understand through team data what talent is missing from your current arsenal that the organization needs for success.
  • When recruiting, go outside your normal “comfort zone.” This means take a walk outside the “club”, look at those different from you or the norm, and just because someone doesn’t work in the same industry doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have enough business acumen to make things work.
  • Beef up your interviewing techniques or as it is in some cases, do not hire people without an interview. Allowing leadership to hire people they know without an interview is a recipe for disaster
  • Use assessments that can reveal the behaviors, skills, and attributes a good CEO should bring to the table. In fact, the Genome Project suggests four behaviors that a successful CEO requires:
  1. Deciding with speed and conviction. Good psychometric assessments measure decision making abilities, style, and whether the individual has a sense of urgency.
  2. Engaging for Impact. Good psychometric assessments measure how well the respondent understands others, managing abilities, and how influential the respondent is over others to engage them in achieving organizational goals.
  3. Adapting proactively. Good psychometric assessments measure adaptability and the individual’s resistance to change. See last week’s blog on Getting Employees Unstuck for Change
  4. Delivering reliably. Good psychometric assessments measure reliability and personal accountability.

What’s the point? The point is that it makes, or should make common sense, to break the mold on CEO hunting to find a better match to help achieve organizational goals. The point is that it makes, or should make common sense, to follow good interviewing techniques to help in the selection for successful leadership. The point is that it makes, or should make common sense, to use affordable tools available to any organization of any size to find the (almost) perfect fitting CEO for your organization, its culture, and plans.

Thank you for reading this blog. Let’s have a conversation around the good psychometric assessments we use and your organization’s goals. Call 404-320-7834 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit


Botelho, E.L.; Powell, K.R.; Kincaid, S.; Wang. D. (2017, May/June). What Sets Successful CEOs Apart? Harvard Business Review
Trammell, J. (2018, January). What Constitutes a High Performing CEO Part I  The American CEO

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