Business leaders are stranger than ever


VSPATRONS OF ELEBRITY used to have nicknames that made the virtue of short locks and brutality. “Chainsaw Al” and “Neutron Jack” looked more like wrestlers than men in costume. That kind of nickname would be shocking today. Inclusiveness and empathy are what matters: think of “Listening Tim” and “Simpatico Satya”. But just because business leaders seem more normal than they really are. The demands of the job call for an ever stranger set of characteristics.

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In some ways, the path to the top of the business pyramid is unchanged. It forces people to compete with each other over a long period of time. It requires proof of financial and operational success. He uses the prospect of money – a lot of money – as leverage to entice ambitious people. And he selects familiar traits: hard work, impatience, self-confidence, and extroversion. If you’d rather stay indoors and watch “The Great British Bake Off” than the wine and dinner patrons, the role is not for you.

A recent study by Steve Kaplan of the University of Chicago and Morten Sorensen of the Tuck School of Business examines evaluations conducted by ghCLEVER, a consulting firm, with more than 2,600 candidates for various management positions. Candidates for CEO jobs appear as a recognizable type. Across a range of characteristics, they average more extreme ratings: they shine in what academics call “general ability.”

They also differ from other frames in details. Where future CFOs are more analytical and focus on the details, candidates CEOs higher score on charisma, on getting things done and on strategic thinking. These traits also appear to be predictive. By tracking applicants’ subsequent careers, academics find that people who applied for a different position but had “CEOSimilar characteristics were more likely to end up in the top position.

Yet today’s businesses are looking for more than a typeA personality. M. Kaplan and M. Sorensen note that CEO applicants with better interpersonal skills are more likely to be hired. Another new research, led by academics at Imperial College London, Cornell University and Harvard University, analyzes the lengthy job descriptions companies write when working with headhunters to recruit. a new leader. Cognitive skills, operational acumen and financial literacy are prerequisites for success. But over the past two decades, these descriptions have increasingly focused on social skills – the ability of bosses to coordinate and communicate with multiple people.

Why are these soft skills popular? Part of the answer, according to Stephen Hansen of Imperial College, lies in the rise of knowledge workers. Companies increasingly depend on developers, data scientists and THIS managers used to working autonomously. Business leaders will not tell these kinds of workers what to do; their job is to make sure people understand the goals of the business and work together effectively. Indeed, the paper shows that the demand for these skills is increasing in larger and more information intensive companies. Social skills are more important when bosses need to persuade as much as they need to educate.

The larger environment also rewards soft skills. A survey by Edelman, a public relations firm, suggests that the majority of customers and employees make choices about what to buy and where to work based on their beliefs. Business leaders need to appease politicians, respond to activists, and mitigate fire storms on social media. It helps if the boss comes across as a member of society that you can relate to, and not a villain inhabiting a volcano.

It’s not yet time to put an end to old-fashioned narcissism. Another study, conducted by a quartet of researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, asked 182 directors about the personalities of their leaders. The responses suggest that up to 18% of bosses are considered narcissists by their own board members, a prevalence rate perhaps three times that of the general American population. Researchers also find that companies with narcissism CEOs tend to have higher scores for their environmental, social and governance policies. What better way for a self-centered person to empathize than to save the planet?

The demands on business leaders are becoming increasingly strange. Be more talented than others in the business, but don’t tell them what to do. Crush the competition while showing empathy. Listen with charisma. You are likely to be aggressive. CEOs have always been abnormal. The trick now is not to show it.

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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Le travail impossible”


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