SOURCE: Green Peak Partners

Green Peak Partners

September 09, 2010 10:08 ET

Leaders With Strong "Soft Skills" Get Better Business Results Than Those Who Drive Hard for Results at All Costs

New Study Shows That Boards and Committees Should Search for "Self-Aware" Leaders and CEOs -- and Discount "Bluster"

DENVER, CO--(Marketwire - September 9, 2010) -  Everyone wants to stack the deck in favor of success when selecting CEOs and top executives. But not all Boards and committees agree on the leadership style and personality that lead to success.

Will it be hard-driving, "results-at-all-costs" type who gets the results that are needed, or a self-aware "people person" with strong interpersonal skills?

Many accepted perspectives -- and even conventional wisdom -- are wrong, according to a new study by organizational consulting firm Green Peak Partners in collaboration with a research team at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

The study, "What Predicts Executive Success?," is based on a deep analysis of the styles, backgrounds and track records of 72 senior executives at public, venture-backed and private equity sponsored companies.

A key takeaway is that soft values drive hard results, according to J.P. Flaum, Managing Partner, and Dr. Becky Winkler, Principal, at Green Peak Partners. The study findings do not suggest that "pushover" or "weak" executives get good bottom-line results. Strong bottom-line performance is most likely to come from executives who are emotionally intelligent and self-aware.

"Companies and their investors need to put more effort into evaluating the interpersonal strengths of potential leaders. Those qualities often aren't revealed by standard tests and interview techniques. Therefore, what's really needed is a change in focus: Boards, private equity general partners and management teams need to focus not only on what executive candidate does but also how they do it," said Mr. Flaum.

"Our findings directly challenge the conventional view that 'drive for results at all costs' is the right approach. The executives most likely to deliver good bottom line results are actually self-aware leaders who are especially good at working with individuals and in teams," said Dr. Winkler.

Mr. Flaum and Dr. Winkler are available for interviews to discuss the study's findings and the implications in more detail. For instance, they can elaborate on why...

  • "Bully" traits that are often seen as part of a business-building culture were typically signs of incompetence and lack of strategic intellect. Such weaknesses as being "arrogant," "too direct" or "impatient and stubborn" correlated with low ratings for delivering financial results, business/technical acumen, strategic intellect, and, not surprisingly, managing talent, inspiring followership and being a team player.
  • When evaluating a senior-level candidate, a company should spend as much time exploring how he or she gets things done as what he or she claims to have accomplished. There are limits on the degree to which someone can improve his or her basic ability to interact well with others.
  • "Self-awareness" is a primary driver of an executive's effectiveness. A high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. Executives whose interpersonal skill scores were low also scored badly on every single performance dimension.
  • Experience at many companies is not an indicator of success. In fact, it correlates with low ratings. A candidate who has changed jobs frequently is often trying to outrun a problem -- or he or she often lacks perspective on the outcome of his or her leadership decisions.
  • Candidates with multiple siblings tend to be better leaders than those with none or one. Executives with more siblings were rated highly in their ability to manage people and drive results.

To learn more about the study, or to arrange an interview with J.P. Flaum or Becky Winkler, please contact Katarina Wenk-Bodenmiller of Sommerfield Communications, Inc. at 212-255-8386 or Katarina@sommerfield.com.

About the Study

The study, commissioned by Green Peak and conducted by a research team at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, involved 72 senior executives across 31 companies, half of them with C-level or President titles, who were assessed by Green Peak between 2005 and 2008. As Dr. John Hausknecht, Cornell Assistant Professor, stated, "We know very little about what predicts executive success -- it is extremely rare to gain access to detailed pre-hire candidate information and short- and long-term indicators of executive performance for this many individuals. Much of what has been written about the predictors of executive success is based on personal anecdotes or conventional wisdom rather than scientific evidence."

The study consisted of two phases. In the first, the executives participated in Green Peak Partners' extensive executive assessment program, which is based on an in-depth four-hour interview. The evaluations probed the executives' backgrounds -- family, education, early-career and recent professional experiences -- and mapped a series of qualities, including leadership styles and technical competence. In the second phase, interviews were conducted with the executives' bosses between April and October of 2009 to determine how well the executives performed on the jobs for which they were hired. Through statistical analyses, performance was simplified into two categories -- the ability to drive results and the ability to manage talent. One of the important outcomes of the study has been the reinforcement of the belief that an executive's experiences and leadership style are directly linked to his or her performance. 

  • Companies ranged in size from $50 million to $5 billion in annual revenue.
  • The top industries represented were retail (31 percent), technology (26 percent) and finance (17 percent).
  • Average work experience was 22.4 years.
  • 29 percent were CEO candidates.
  • 17 percent were female.
  • 10 percent attended an Ivy League University.

About Green Peak Partners

Green Peak Partners is a premier organizational consulting firm, with offices in five North American cities, dedicated to expanding the talent and leadership capability of client companies at both the individual and team level. Green Peak helps investors and their companies secure a competitive edge by backing the best people and fully leveraging their leadership talents. Green Peak serves leading private equity firms, their portfolio companies, other private companies and outstanding public companies. The firm offers the best in talent assessment, executive coaching and senior-level facilitation in the country. For more information on Green Peak Partners, please visit http://greenpeakpartners.com/.

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