CEO Leadership Traits: Jerks and Wimps Need Not Apply

Intuitively, most people would agree that CEOs shouldn’t be jerks or wimps. No one wants to work for either. However, some jerks and wimps make it into the C-suite. I’ve run into many, as have some of you. If you have jerklike or wimplike tendencies yourself and are an executive, pay attention. If you’re on a board and tasked with hiring a new CEO, pay attention also.

When I first started consulting with CEOs, a financially successful, but reputationally challenged, CEO called me because he had some organizational challenges. When I arrived at his top-floor office, he told me the problem was that he couldn’t find any good people. Uh huh …

As you might imagine, there were plenty of good people with more than enough experience. However, most of them didn’t want to work for a jerk. Talented people don’t want to be second-guessed, yelled at, made to feel inferior and treated like a rented mule. CEOs who are jerks typically have weak teams with little commitment (check the parking lot at 5:01).

Wimpy CEOs are just as dangerous, though not as bombastic. Although a wimpy CEO won’t bully you, he’ll likely suck the motivation right out of your heart and brain. Wimpy CEOs refuse to make tough decisions and have no place leading a large organization. Fear (of everything!) isn’t a desirable leadership trait, whether CEO of a large company or any other leadership position. (Wimps can be wonderful people, however. Just don’t make them leaders.)

I’ve encountered a few wimpy CEOs, and their teams aren’t good. One of the most productive styles of leadership can be summed up as “Come with me!” Wimpy CEOs don’t dare chart a course so, of course, no one follows! Daniel Goleman has written about The Six Leadership Styles — fascinating stuff — and his thoughts support the “no jerks and no wimps” rule. 

As if we needed more reason to shun jerks and wimps, a recent study (“Second-Order Effects of CEO Characteristics: How Rivals’ Perceptions of CEOs as Submissive and Provocative Precipitate Competitive Attacks”) identifies another reason jerks and wimps shouldn’t hold high office. They’re subject to high levels of attack by their competitors in the marketplace. 

Don’t be a jerk and don’t be a wimp! Kind and strong is the answer. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

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Recent Comments

  • Paul Hoyt

    6:54 pm April 30, 2019

    I continue to be impressed by both your wisdom and your writing. Keep ’em coming!
    – Paul

  • Don Myers

    9:02 pm April 30, 2019

    Love it!!!


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