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Inside the Mind of the Asian CEO

Why do some people become CEOs and others don’t? Why do some Chief Executive Officers thrive while others fail? What separates an outstanding leader from an average one?


HQ Asia | January 26, 2017


The HQ Asia article, "Inside the Mind of the Asian CEO," was coauthored by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Ric Roi and Thought Leadership Lead PJ Neal. The piece looked at findings from Russell Reynolds Associates' research, "Inside the Mind of the Chief Executive Officer." The article is excerpted below.   

For several years, our teams at Russell Reynolds Associates and Hogan Assessments have sought to understand the differences between average and best-in-class leaders at all levels in organisations, up to and including the Chief Executive Officer. In 2016, Russell Reynolds Associates published a report of these findings, Inside the Mind of the Chief Executive Officer. This study leveraged the firm’s database of over 7000 psychometric profiles of executives, including more than 900 CEOs, to understand the psychology of these senior leaders, to see how CEOs compare to their fellow members of the C-suite, and to try and understand what separates good CEOs from great CEOs.

Read on for those findings as well as a  deeper dive into the Asian CEO profile in Russell Reynolds Associates’ and Hogan Assessments’ database to explore what sets them apart as leaders.

CEOs Relative to Fellow Executives

Our analysis showed that CEOs differ from their fellow C-suite executives in meaningful ways.  For executives looking to take on the top job, the old adage “what got you here won’t get you there” holds true – the traits and preferences that help a leader succeed in finance, or marketing, or sales are indeed different than what is necessary to succeed as a CEO.

The most striking difference is that CEOs are, on average, significantly more courageous and fast-paced that non-CEO executives; they constantly seek out challenges, and are not easily intimidated by the obstacles they face along the way.

In addition to persistence and initiative, the data also showed significant differences in six other areas. Relative to their fellow executives, CEOs are more driven and resilient, more likely to be original thinkers, are better at visualising the future, are more natural team builders, send clearer messages, and are more likely to galvanise others to action.

Average CEOs vs Best-in-Class

It’s clear that there are psychological differences between CEOs and non-CEO executives. But can we discern clear, meaningful differences between average CEOs and those considered best-in-class – the 39 executives in our database who lead organisations that deliver 5% or greater compound annual growth rate (CAGR)?

It turns out we can.  When we compared the best-performing CEOs to average ones, striking results emerged.  Best-in-class CEOs had a significantly more passionate sense of urgency, a stronger ability to rise far above the details, and lower levels of pretension.

Best-in-class CEOs consistently pursue objectives with energy and  perseverance, keep problems in perspective, read situations efficiently and actively, and demonstrate humility.

How Asian CEOs Compare

The analysis to date has been looking at averages from a global pool of executives. But we know that psychological traits which accompany leadership emergence can vary from one geographic region to another as a result of cultural norms and societal influences.

What happens when we separate out Asian CEOs for comparison?  We identified 38 Chief Executive Officers in our database who have spent most of their careers in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Philippines, or Vietnam, and analysed their data.

To read the full article​, click here.

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Inside the Mind of the Asian CEO