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Do Most Top Executives Have Good People Skills?

Because metrics of CEO performance have little or nothing to do with genuinely treating people well, most organizations inadvertently encourage their leaders to step on the very people they are supposed to lead.

Think about it. When the term "CEO" (or any term associated with a top executive) is uttered, most of us think of "hard" skills. (See for example this article in Forbes: "Great CEOs Must be Either Technical or Financial.")

However at least one analysis of CEO data shows that those who occupy this role definitely have certain seeming "people skills" that non-CEOs lack.

Or are they?

The screenshot below is from "Making It to the Top: Nine Attributes That Differentiate CEOs," an analysis of an in-house database of "nearly 4,000 executive assessments, including over 130 CEOs" done by consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

The company found that CEOs have 9 differentiator qualities. The following 4 are specifically associated with people, under the category "Team Building" -
  • "Seeks to understand different perspectives but does not overanalyze" 
  • "Displays intensity/emotion but maintains control" 
  • "Involves others in decisions but also is an independent decision maker" 
  • "Is comfortable with a variety of people but is not too trusting." 
While on the surface the CEO seems to be a good team member, is it more plausible that this person is actually an advanced manipulator of people?

Consider a recent study, "Narcissistic CEOs and executive compensation" (The Leadership Quarterly, 2013). It found that CEOs may actually be more likely than non-CEOs to have this personality disorder.
"Narcissism is characterized by traits such as dominance, self-confidence, a sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and low empathy.There is growing evidence that individuals with these characteristics often emerge as leaders, and that narcissistic CEOs may make more impulsive and risky decisions."
Certainly CEOs are not punished for having poor people skills or even evaluated based on the quality of their interactions with other people.

This is true even though we hear over and over again that "people are an organization's most important asset." See for example:
Harvard Business Review, in "Valuing Your Most Valuable Assets," points out this discrepancy, noting that employees don't normally get white-glove treatment. Yet HBR itself discounts the quality of employee management completely in its ranking of "The Best-Performing CEOs in the World."

Harvard's CEO rankings are not based on "people skills" at all!

See below the basis of the rankings and the weights associated with them:
  • Stock performance (80%): 1) total shareholder return 2) change in market capitalization (which is the cost of a share times the number of shares outstanding) 
  • Responsibility performance ("ESG") (20%): A combined measure of the company's performance on 1) environmental impact 2) social responsibility and 3) quality of governance (Research Methodology
Here's the bottom line: When we put our metrics where our mouths are, we will stop seeing mini-dictatorships crop up in in professional organizations. This will be an automatic byproduct of a different kind of "normal" business climate, one in which we stop tolerating leaders with personality disorders and only hire people who routinely treat others with human decency.


This question was originally posed on Quora. This blog is a repost of my answer there. All opinions my own. 

Why Gen X Can't Succeed At Work

"Douche bag."
"Hey, welcome's been looking for you."
"Yeah, I lost my phone."
"Fuck off."
"Or maybe I took a hammer to it."
"....We fly tomorrow night."
"Without me....I quit the group, Rob."
"....Stop fucking around. Shit, shower, shave, and let's go."
- CIA agents Quinn and Rob discussing a mission, Homeland, Season 4, Episode 12
There are three main generations in the workforce today:
I am a Gen Xer. And the fact that I am ignored by the media has been covered many times, including this Time cover story going back to 1997.
This is not to bemoan such a sad state of affairs. Nor is it to enlighten you about all things X. And of course one would be stupid to reduce people to simplistic generational categories.
Rather, it is to highlight a problem that Gen Xers face with respect to workplace diversity, precisely because we are so little-studied and understood: our communication style. For compared with "political" Baby Boomers and "polite" Millennials, Gen Xers are perceived as "rude," "skeptical," "cynical."
Most of the time, discussions of generational difference do not focus on language. Here is a typical depiction (emphasis on Boomers, Xers and Millenials mine).
But it is important to talk about differences in communication style, because as we all know, the impact of miscommunication on workplace productivity is significant. Not the least of the potential problems is that employees can make costly and dangerous mistakes.
The impact of miscommunication on an individual's career may be invisible, but it is personal and it is costly. Which is probably why Harvard Business Review has an entire section on its website specifically devoted to this.
Unfortunately for the Gen Xer, particularly the Xer who is working in a team-based organization, conversations about diversity in communication style tend to revolve around cross-cultural issues or those relating to gender
Given that the unique constellation of Gen X characteristics tends to be ignored in the diversity conversation, and given that Xers' unique style of communication is essentially a nonissue, it follows that this generational cohort is bound to suffer from being "branded" negatively in some very unfair ways.
The solution to this problem does not lie in "consciousness raising," from my point of view. It isn't a matter of one group trying to oppress another. Rather, it's about taking personal responsibility for understanding that our colleagues may have trouble understanding why we talk the way we do. It's about recognizing that no matter how many achievements you can list on our resume, your communication style may actually really piss other people off. And that you sometimes have to temper yourself to get along with them.
I will always be a diehard fan of John Hughes. I will binge-watch Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead and Homeland and I'll wonder:
Who writes like this?
These are awesomely realistic scripts.
But when I walk into the office to get my work done tomorrow, I'll probably avoid calling anyone a "douche."
All opinions my own.