Many people spend their entire lives climbing that corporate ladder, hoping to someday scale all the way to the top — the coveted role of CEO. Those three letters are synonymous in American society with success — but how do you know if you have what it really takes to get there?
Thanks to a survey conducted by Elena Bothelho and Kim Powell, authors of “The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors That Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders,” the world now has a better picture of what successful CEOs actually look like. Spoiler alert: It’s not what you think.
Ivy League Isn’t a Prerequisite
If you don’t have a Harvard, Yale or Brown pedigree — don’t sweat it. In fact, according to the study, only 7 percent of the CEOs analyzed graduated from an Ivy League college and 8 percent of CEOs in the sample didn’t even complete college (or took an unusually long time to graduate). Take the CEO of Republic Services, Don Slager, for example. He’s at the helm of a Fortune 500 company, and he didn’t even graduate college.
Success isn’t measured by traditional means anymore. Work ethic far outweighs other factors, and the so-called proof is in the pudding — sources show that many CEOs and billionaires grew up extremely poor.
You Don’t Need to Be Larger Than Life
Most people have the concept of a CEO in their heads: someone who’s charming, suave, well dressed, with healthy dose of the “it” factor.
According to the Bothelho and Powell’s findings, however, over a third of the CEOs studied actually consider themselves to be introverted. The study explains that “high confidence more than doubles a candidate’s chances of being chosen as CEO but provides no advantage in performance on the job,” and that “self-described introverts in [the] sample were slightly more likely to exceed boards’ expectations.”
It’s Okay to Have a Few Resume Blemishes
Most people have a work history that sometimes leaves a little bit to be desired — and that’s just fine.
According to the survey, 45 percent of CEO candidates in the data set had “at least one major career blowup,” but more than 78 percent of them ultimately went on to become the CEO anyway, despite their major setback.
The lesson here is that success isn’t measured by these individuals’ perfection, but rather how they navigated the choppy sea of setbacks — and how they turned their failures into financial success.
Gender: Equally Qualified
Even though only 4 to 6 percent of the largest companies are led by women in any given year, the study revealed a key point: “Where it matters, female and male CEOs appear more similar than different.”
Men and women, by virtue, might exhibit different leadership and communication styles, but gender has no bearing on the success of a CEO.
The Bottom Line: Hard Work Is King
The major takeaway from the survey can be summed up simply: “The iconic CEO is a mythical creature.”
Success is typically driven by motivated, dedicated workers with a drive to succeed — and that doesn’t always mean they have the perfect path or the most stellar results from the get-go, either.
Click here to learn strategies for success from Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos.
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