At the top of the ladder, the stakes are high and the demands intense. Too many CEOs falter in the job; about a quarter of the Fortune 500 chiefs who leave their firms each year are forced out. Clearly, boards do not always get their hires right.
In conducting an analysis of in-depth assessments of 17,000 executives, the authors uncovered a large disconnect between what directors think makes for an ideal CEO and what actually leads to high performance. The findings of their 10-year research project challenge many widely held assumptions. Charisma, confidence, and pedigree all have little bearing on CEO success, it turns out. Instead, top performers demonstrate four specific business behaviors: (1) They’re decisive, realizing they can’t wait for perfect information and that a wrong decision is often better than no decision. (2) They engage for impact, working to understand the priorities of stakeholders and then aligning them around a goal of value creation. (3) They adapt proactively, keeping an eye on the long term and treating mistakes as learning opportunities. (4) They deliver results in a reliable fashion, steadily following through on commitments.
High potentials being groomed as future leaders would appear to have it made—but their seemingly good fortune can turn out to be a curse. As they strive to conform to company ideals for leadership, they often bury the qualities that made them special. They become reluctant to take risks, lest they prove themselves unworthy. This “talent curse” can hinder personal growth, performance, and engagement—and even push people out the door.
- A shift from using your talent to constantly trying to prove it
- A preoccupation with your image, which feels increasingly inauthentic
- The feeling that your present work is empty and only the future will be meaningful
- Own your talent; don’t let it own you. Balance others’ expectations with your needs and learn to accept help.
- Bring your whole self to work. Channel the darker sources of your talent.
- Value the present. View your current work as a worthy destination, not merely a stepping-stone.