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  • Jackie Sahm

The myth of the "perfect CEO"

Modern legend or proven fact? At a time when the spectre of the 'perfect' CEO continues to haunt companies, let's take a look at the stereotypes associated with successful CEOs.

We all know the stereotype: good CEOs are extroverted. They know how to put themselves forward. They're not afraid to take risks. But do these common stereotypes really reflect reality? The experts at Hogan Assessments have identified the three main myths that feed the common idea of the perfect CEO. So, is the success of a good CEO really linked to these popular beliefs?

Myth 1: Charisma is the most important trait of a good CEO

If asked to describe the perfect CEO, most people would probably respond with words like ambitious, results-driven, motivated, and above all, charismatic. Charisma is certainly a very attractive characteristic in a leader, but it is directly linked to narcissism. In fact, charisma and narcissism are more closely correlated than weight and height. People who appear confident, intelligent, charismatic, interesting and politically well-informed tend to rise through the ranks very quickly. However, once in a position of authority, they can take decisions that only serve their own interests, make risky bets, cause chaos and damage their company. Highly charismatic leaders often impress with their strategic ambitions, but they are less effective leaders.

Although charisma is often synonymous with professional success, humility is a much more reliable indicator of effectiveness in a leadership position. "Managers with a modest temperament know their strengths but also their limitations, they know how to accept feedback from others, encourage collaboration and lead more effectively," explains Jackie Sahm, Vice-President of Integrated Solutions at Hogan Assessments. "What's more, modest managers generate commitment, retain the most talented employees, stay in their jobs longer than their more arrogant counterparts, and the companies they lead continue to prosper even after they leave, because more humble leaders often prepare a succession plan in advance."

Myth 2: A true CEO never fails

Even when you do everything you can to succeed, you sometimes fail: it's just part of life. What really sets a good CEO apart from the rest is how they deal with failure. How people respond to life's lessons is a very important determinant of individual and corporate success. "Many CEOs have an inadequate perception of and response to failure, which prevents them from learning from their experience. As a result, they tend to make the same mistakes again. For those who blame others or refuse to accept their share of responsibility, the repercussions are generally negative, as they end up losing the trust and respect of their peers and employees," explains Jackie Sahm. "On the other hand, a lack of resilience or excessive self-criticism can lead to professional paralysis and stagnation."

To thrive in their role and create a productive leadership environment, CEOs need to recognise and overcome these tendencies, learning from both professional and personal failures. Fortunately, it is possible to improve one's response to failure: cultivating self-awareness, seeking feedback from trusted people, and embracing new strategies for bouncing back from difficulties are all steps a CEO can take to better manage failure.

Myth 3: CEOs have almost supernatural powers

"The best CEOs stand out in four ways, all of which inspire trust and loyalty, but none of which are supernatural," says Jackie Sahm. "These characteristics are discernment, integrity, credibility, and support." These four qualities all help the 'perfect' CEO to inspire trust on multiple levels, enabling him or her to balance the often conflicting demands and expectations that co-exist in a constant and complex state of tension. Be visionary, but remain humble; support your staff, but empower them; be decisive and quick, but remain precise. The CEO's role is a paradox in itself: he or she is constantly walking a tightrope, like a tightrope walker. To paraphrase Darwin: it's not the strongest or the most intelligent that survive. It's those who adapt best to change.

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