“Cheetah” CEOs Outperform “Lamb” CEOs

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Topgrading research destroys a common myth – the myth that top executives, including CEOs, need more emotional intelligence than Type A intensity.  University of Chicago researchers studied 225 CEOs assessed with Topgrading methods, and found that CEOs who were extremely results-oriented delivered much better financial results than CEOs high in Emotional Intelligence.

Are you surprised at this politically incorrect result? The current issue of Chief Executive shows the staggering costs of mis-hires at the top …and the fact that 2/3 of CEOs fail to meet the objectives they were hired to achieve, the average tenure for a CEO these days is only 18 months. I think the two lines of research are related – that high level managers are hired with too much weight placed on Emotional Intelligence and not enough importance put on getting results.

Topgrading assessments of 225 CEOs hired by private equity firms were studied. As you might expect, the private equity firms researched, including Blackstone and Bain Capital, are not shy about measuring the financial performance of CEOs they hire.

The idea, of course, is to have both intense drive to produce results AND warmth, understanding, and empathy.  But for any upper management job if there are two finalists, one with superior financial results and “okay” emotional intelligence, and the other with superior EI and only an “okay” record of accomplishment, which would you hire? Me, too.

In his CEO performance study, Geoff Smart refers to “Cheetah” CEOs, who scored highest on being fast, aggressive, persistent, proactive, strong in work ethic, and holding people to high standards.  And there are the “Lamb” CEOs, who scored highest on showing others respect, listening, and openness to criticism.  The “cheetah” CEOs met or exceeded their financial targets twice as often as the “lamb” CEOs.

It may be that the tough skills are absolutely necessary to get results, and the soft skills are important in moderation. I personally cringe when boards weight the soft skills over the proven ability to get results, because that almost always spells disaster.  But it’s equally risky to hire the Type A, hard driving SOB manager who is clearly deficient in EI.

Conclusion:  my hunch is that senior executive hiring has been an extremely costly failure in part because of disproportionate emphasis on Emotional Intelligence and insufficient emphasis on getting results, and that the standard for hiring senior managers should be that they are at least “Good” in Emotional Intelligence but “Excellent” at getting results.

Want to learn more?  Download a free eGuide on the basics of Topgrading.

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