Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) hold unique positions in their organizations. They are ultimately responsible for decisions that are made and strategies that are executed.
They are, however, not alone. Members of top management teams work with the CEO and are highly influential and essential to organizational effectiveness. Both the CEO and top management teams work together to ensure that the business succeeds.
What separates a CEO from other top managers? Recent research (Booth, Murray, Overduin, Matthews & Furnham, 2016) explored cognitive, personality, and career path differences to understand if a “CEO type” exists.
DIFFERENCES IN PERSONALITY OR COGNITIVE ABILITY
Researchers compared 112 CEOs to 1040 senior managers to identify differences in cognitive ability and personality. Although both CEOs and senior managers have higher levels of cognitive ability than the general population, there was no real difference in intelligence between CEOs and senior managers.
In terms of personality, out of 30 characteristics, researchers found differences in only four areas:
Compared to Senior Managers, CEOs have…
Lower Impulsivity = Less of a tendency to act on urges
Lower Vulnerability = Less susceptible to stress
Higher Activity = Faster pace of living
Higher Dutifulness = Stronger emphasis on fulfilling moral obligations
Given the central role of a CEO in an organization, being less susceptible to stress and being able to operate at a fast pace may likely come in handy. Given the power that CEOs have, ensuring that they are not impulsive and have a strong moral compass likely helps the sustainability of the organization.
DIFFERENCES IN CAREER PATHS
On average, CEOs and senior managers in the research study held the same number of previous jobs (between 7 and 8). A big difference, however, is that 65% of CEOs in the study had worked abroad, compared to only 28% of senior managers. Having international experience may reflect a more diverse employment background that CEOs have compared to other senior managers.
This research is important because it shows similarities between CEOs and senior managers. While there are differences between CEOs and senior managers, it suggests there is no unique profile of a CEO. Thus, hiring committees should consider a wide range of applicants who may be able to fill the role.
As an employee or manager looking to one day become a CEO, what does this research mean to you? First, it suggests spending some time working abroad may not be a bad idea. Second, being able to operate at a fast pace and manage stress may also be key to success as a CEO. Although being a CEO is not for everyone, it appears as though there is more than one type of person who can make the role their own.
Booth, T., Murray, A.L., Overduin, M., Matthews, M. & Furnham, A. (2016). Distinguishing CEOs from top level management: A profile analysis of Individual differences, career paths, and demographics. Journal of Business and Psychology, 31,