Healthcare Informatics and Technology Investors
Healthcare Informatics and Technology Investors


About Team Role Theory

History & Research

Reliability & Validity

Dr. Meredith Belbin

Behavior vs. Personality



Distilling the Knowledge of the C. E. O.

A. Bryant; NY Times; April 16, 2011

Visualize 100 individuals working at a big company. They're all middle managers, around 35 years old. They're all smart. All collegial. All hard-working. All of them have optimistic behaviour. They're all very good communicators.

So what will determine who gets the next promotion, and the one after that? Which of these, once the time arrives, will get that corner office?

In other words, exactly what does it take to guide an organization whether it's a sports team, a nonprofit, a start-up or a multinational organization? What are the X factors?

Interviews I executed with more than 70 chief executives along with leaders for Corner Office in The New York Times point to 5 essentials for success - qualities that most those C. E. O. s share and look for in individuals that they hire.

The best part: these attributes are not genetic. It's not as if you have to always be tall or left-handed. These characteristics are developed by means of attitude, habit and discipline - elements which are within your control. They'll make you stand out. They'll make you a much better employee, administrator and boss. They will raise the trajectory of your career and speed your advancement.

These aren't hypotheses. They come via many years of collective knowledge of top rated professionals who have learned firsthand what it takes to succeed. From the corner office, they can watch others attempt an identical climb and notice the qualities that set people apart. These kinds of C. E. O. s offered myriad lessons and insights on the art of managing and leading, but each of them shared 5 attributes: Passionate curiosity. Battle-hardened confidence. Team smarts. A simple mind-set. Fearlessness.

Below are excerpts from chapters about each of them.

Passionate Curiosity

A lot of successful chief executives are passionately curious folks. It's a side of them rarely seen in the mass media and in investor meetings, and there is a reason for that. In business, C. E. O. s are meant to project confidence and breezy power as they take an audience through their projections of steady growth. Certainty is the game face they use. They've broken the code.

But get them away from these kinds of comfortable scripts, and a different side emerges. They reveal tales about downfalls and doubts and mistakes. They ask big-picture questions. They ponder why things work the way they do and whether or not those things might be improved upon. They need to know people's stories, and exactly what they are doing.

It is this kind of unyielding questioning which leads business people to spot new possibilities and helps managers understand the people who work for them, and ways to get them to operate together efficiently. Its no coincidence that more than one executive uttered the same phrase when explaining what, in the end, is the C. E. O. s job: "I am a student of human nature."

The C. E. O. s aren't always the wisest people in the room, but they are the most effective learners - the letters could quite as easily stand for 'chief education officer. '

"You learn from everybody," stated Alan R. Mulally, the chief executive of the Ford Motor Company. "I've always just wanted to know everything, to understand anybody that I was around - why they thought what they did, the reason why they did what they did, what worked for them, what didn't work."

Why 'passionate curiosity'? The phrase is more than the sum of its parts, which individually fall short in capturing the quality that sets these C. E. O. s apart. There are many individuals who are zealous, but many of their passions are dedicated to just one area. There are many curious individuals on the earth, but they can likewise be wallflowers.

But 'passionate curiosity' - a phrase used by Nell Minow, the co-founder of the Corporate Library - better conveys the contagious sense of fascination that a lot of people have with every little thing around them.

Passionate curiosity, Ms. Minow said, "is indispensable, no matter what the task is. You want somebody who is just alert and very awake and engaged with the world and requiring more.

Though chief executives are paid to possess solutions, their biggest contributions to their organizations can be asking the right questions. They acknowledge that they cannot hold the answer to everything, but they can push their company in new directions and marshal the collective power of their employees by asking the right questions."

In business, the big prizes are found when you can ask a question that challenges the business orthodoxy, " explained Andrew Cosslett, the C. E. O. of the InterContinental Hotels Group. "In every business I've worked in, there's been lots of cost and value locked up in things that are deemed to be - just how we do things around here. " So you have to speak with individuals and ask them, "Why do you do that?"

It's an important lesson. For all the furrowed-brow seriousness which you frequently encounter in the corporate environment, some of the most significant innovations come by wondering, similar to a persistent 5-year-old, the simplest questions. Why do you do that? How come it's done that way? Is there a better way?

Battle-Hardened Confidence

Some characteristics are a lot easier to identify than others. Passionate curiosity? It is there for anyone to view. There's an energy from people who have it. Some other qualities are harder to detect, especially the ability to deal with adversity. Some people adapt to trouble, even thrive on it, and they possess a track record of mastering it. They've got battle-hardened self-confidence.

If there were some test to find out whether or not a person possessed this specific quality, it would be a huge moneymaker. But individuals, and businesses, disclose how they manage difficulty only when they're confronted with probable or real failure, and the status quo isn't an option.

The best predictor of behavior is past overall performance, and that is why a lot of chief executives interview job prospects about how they dealt with failure in the past. They need to find out if an individual is the kind of person who takes ownership of challenges or starts trying to find excuses.

"I believe employing great individuals remains very, difficult," said Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia. "You can never truly tell how an individual handles adversity. When you experience a difficult circumstance, some people just take it and run with it. Some people see adversity and they cower, as talented as they are. You can ask them about the adversity they had previously, but you never actually understand the intensity of the adversity."

A large number of C. E. O. s seem driven by a robust work ethic forged in adversity. As they moved up in businesses, the frame of mind continued to be exactly the same - this is my job, and I'm planning to own it. As a consequence of that attitude, they are recognised with more challenges and promotions.

"I like hiring people who have overcome adversity, for the reason that I think I've observed in my very own career that perseverance is very important," said Nancy McKinstry, the chief executive of Wolters Kluwer, the Dutch publishing and data company. "I will ask them specifically: - Provide me an example of some adverse situations you faced, and what did you do to sort it out, and what did you learn from it?" The people I've hired who have possessed that capacity to describe the specific situation have always worked out, simply because they're able to kind of fall down, dust themselves off, and keep fighting the very next day.

The chief executives' testimonies help bring to life a theory known as 'locus of control.' Generally speaking, it describes individual's outlooks and values concerning what causes achievement and disappointment within their lives. Do they have a tendency to blame failures upon aspects they cannot control, or do they think they have the ability to shape events and situations by making the most of what they are able to control? It's a constructive approach blended with a feeling of purpose and determination. People who have it will take on, and own, virtually any project cast their way. They say those words that are music to a manager's ears: "Got it. I'm on it."

Team Smarts

Eventually, the belief of being a team player became devalued in corporate and business life. It has been diminished to a truism - I work with a team, consequently I am a team player. It's a point captured in a cartoon, by Mike Baldwin, in which an interviewer says to a job applicant: "We need a passionate team player. How are you at toiling in obscurity?"

The most efficient professionals tend to be more than team players. They understand how groups operate and ways to get the most from the team. Just as some individuals have street smarts, other people have team smarts.

Mark Pincus, the C. E. O. of the Zynga Game Network, the internet gaming company, said he learned lessons about teamwork participating in soccer in college. Even nowadays, when he plays in Sunday-morning games, he said, he can identify people who would be excellent hires because of how they play.

"One is reliability," he said. "There are particular individuals you just know aren't going to make a mistake, even if the other guy's faster than they are, or whatever. And are you a playmaker? There are people who possess this kind of intelligence, and they can make these kinds of great plays. It's not that they're superstar competitors, but they'll allow you to get the ball and then be where you'd be expecting to put it back to them. It's like their heads are seriously in the game."

Team smarts is also related to having good 'peripheral vision' for sensing precisely how people react to one another, not simply how they behave.

George S. Barrett, the chief executive of Cardinal Health, described an example of how he assessed supervisors when he changed into a new role.

"We were sitting with a number of about 40 to 50 managers, and people were standing up to raise certain concerns," he recalled. "And I watched this one exec. People were riveted to him, actually listening and engaged. And then this other executive addressed the group, and I observed everyone's eyes. And their eyes went back down to their conference tables. It was an obvious signal that said, 'You've lost us.' So sometimes you have no idea of what the messages are that you are likely to receive, but you have to search for them. They come through your peripheral vision."

Companies increasingly operate through ad hoc groups. Team smarts refers to the ability to identify the participants the group requires and how you can bring them together around the same goal.

"Early on, I was wowed by talent, and I was willing to set aside the concept that this individual might not be a team player," explained Susan Lyne, chairman from the Gilt Groupe. "Now, somebody needs to be able to work with people - that's No. 1 on the checklist. I want people who are going to be competent to build a team, manage a team, generate prospects effectively and work well with their colleagues. People who genuinely succeed in business will be the ones who truly have figured out how to mobilize people who aren't their direct reports."

A Straightforward Mind-Set

There is a stubborn disconnect in many companies. Most senior professionals want the same thing from individuals who present to them: be succinct, get to the point, make it very simple. But very few individuals can deliver the straightforwardness that many employers desire. Instead, they wrongly assume that the bosses are going to be pleased with a lengthy PowerPoint presentation that demonstrates how diligently they researched a topic, or that they will win over their superiors by speaking more, not less.

Very few issues apparently get C. E. O. s riled up more than time-consuming PowerPoint presentations. It is not the software they detest; that's simply a tool. What irks them is the unfocused thinking that results in an overlong slide presentation. There's wide agreement it is a dilemma: 'death by PowerPoint' has become a cliche.

If so many executives in positions of power are very clear about what they desire, why can't they get the people who report to them to get rid of the 'Power' component of their presentations and simply get to the 'Point'?

There are many probable explanations. Many people have difficulties being succinct. Next time you're in a meeting, ask somebody to give you the 10-word summation of his/her concept. Some people are capable of doing a fast bit of mental jujitsu, and they'll review a concept using a 'Here's what is actually important... or - The bottom line is.... Others will have trouble identifying the core issue.

Yet another feasible explanation is the fact that a lag prevails within the business world. There was a time when simply possessing certain details was a competitive advantage. These days, in the Online era, a lot of people have easy access to the exact same facts. That puts a larger premium on the capability to synthesize, to connect dots in new ways and to ask simple, sensible questions that lead to untapped prospects.

"I'd love to teach a course called 'The Idea'" said Dany Levy, the president of DailyCandy. com. "Which is, fundamentally, so you want to start a business, how's it going to work? Let's figure it out: just a very practical plan, but not a business strategy, because I feel like business plans right now feel weighty and out-of-date. It appears, back in the day, that the lengthier your business plan was, the more promising it was likely to be. And today, the smaller your business plan is, the more succinct and to the point it is, the better. You need people to get why your business is going to work rather quickly."

Steven A. Ballmer, the C. E. O. of Microsoft, stated he understood the impulse in powerpoint presentations to talk about all of the base research that resulted in a conclusion. But he altered the way he operates conferences to get to the final outcome first.

"The style of Microsoft meetings used to be: You come with something we haven't seen in a slide deck or presentation," he explained. "You supply the presentation. You most likely take what I will call 'the long and winding road.' You take the audience through your path of discovery and exploration, and you arrive at a conclusion.

"I determined that isn't what I want to do any longer. I don't think it is efficient. So most meetings these days, you send me the components and I go through them in advance. And I can come in and say: "I've got these 4 questions. Please don't present the deck." That allows us to go, whether they've organized it like that or not, to their recommendation. In case I have queries about the long and winding road and the information and the supporting evidence, I can ask them. But it provides us better focus.


Are you comfortable being uneasy? Do you like situations in which there is no street map or compass? Do you start twitching whenever things are running efficiently, and want to shake things up? Are you prepared to make surprising vocation moves to master new abilities? Is uncomfortableness your comfort zone?

To paraphrase, are you fearless?

Risk-taking is usually a quality associated with business owners, the type of individuals who make bet-the-farm gambles on a new concept. But risk-taking doesn't really capture the quality that many C. E. O. 's encompass and look for and inspire in other people.

With the business community in apparently endless turmoil, maintaining the status quo - even if things seem to be working nicely - is only likely to put you at the rear of your competitors. So when chief executives talk about management on their employees who are fearless, there is a reverence in their voices. They wish they could bottle it and pass it out to all their employees. They are in search of calculated and informed risk-taking, but primarily they want people to accomplish things - and not simply what they're told to undertake.

"One of the things that I characterize as fearlessness is seeing an opportunity, although things are not broken" said Ursula M. Burns, the C. E. O. of Xerox. "Someone will point out: 'Things are good, but I'm planning to destabilize them because they they could be much better and ought to be much better. We should change this.' The simplest action to take is to just keep it going the way it's going, particularly when it's not ideal but it isn't broken. But you have to be somewhat in front of it, and you should try to fix it well before you need to. Corporations get into trouble when they get really complacent, when they settle in and say, 'O. K., we're doing O. K. now."

Numerous professionals reported fearlessness was one of the top qualities they are interested in when they were meeting with job applicants.

"Specifically, in this culture I have to have people who not only can manage change but possess an appetite for it," said Mindy F. Grossman, the C. E. O. of HSN, the parent corporation of Home Shopping Network. "They tend to be more intellectually inquisitive, so they don't just have vertical climbs. I request those testimonies. I like hearing them and it also shows me a real impression of the particular person."

Much like the other 4 keys to success, fearlessness is definitely mindset, and since attitude is among the very few things over which anyone has complete command, it's a personality trait that can be developed. It may be fostered using a simple approach to taking additional risks.

Chief executives advise that you'll be recognized for fearlessness, because so few individuals live that way and carry this mind-set to work. It can be precarious. You might unsettle individuals by shaking up the status quo. But when you have the best interests of the organization as the primary goal, you'll be able to discover new possibilities for the company as well as for yourself.

These 5 traits help determine who'll be selected for larger roles and more accountability. Those promotions will inevitably carry difficulties which necessitate learning through trial and error.

C. E. O.s can behave as mentors to speed folks along that learning curve. They might not develop silver-bullet theories, but there're specialists in leadership simply because they practice it every day. And many them have spent many years honing their management styles, researching what succeeds and what doesn't, and then helping others.

Chief executives deal with criticism coming from numerous corners, and it is often warranted. But there is no arguing that they have achieved a whole lot.

Through their testimonies, instructions and experience, they have much to provide over and above the hard numbers.