Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


Are the best CEOs all of a type?

Should they be forceful, determined, slightly narcissistic types like Donald Trump?

Should they be dour, conscientious sorts, familiar with every detail of the business like new British Prime Minister Theresa May?

I've just fallen upon new research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business that attempts to enlighten this dilemma.

The researchers analyzed CEOs according to the so-called Big Five personality traits.

However, their shtick was that they looked at them using linguistic features displayed in conference calls and statistical learning techniques.

Should you have avoided learning about these Big Five personality traits, they are: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

You surely know CEOs who score highly (in your own mind) on one or other of these traits.

I can't say I've met many extroverted conscientious CEOs, I must admit.

And as for the neurotic ones who are open to experience, well, I'm not sure I've even met one of those.

Still, as with much research, the large brains delve into enormous academic detail that fascinates other detailed academics as they get blissfully tipsy at conferences.

Sometimes, though, when you flit to the conclusions you find a nugget of joy. Or even two.

Flit with me then as I describe just one or two (possibly) conclusive gems.

"We find that openness is positively associated with R&D intensity and negatively with net leverage," say the researchers.

Could it be that the exploring mind of a CEO lures him or her into committing too many resources to exploring minds? Wouldn't that make the CEO, in a subtle way, narcissistic?

Or are we all prone to certain tendencies that drive too much of our decision-making?

Now about those conscientious CEOs.

They're workaholics. They take everything seriously. They want to do what's right. They're precise to the point of pedantry.

So here speak the researchers: "Conscientiousness is negatively associated with growth."

Ah. Does all the detail-obsession lead to a certain embrace of stasis? Is doing what's right a right old stifler?

Here, though, is my favorite: "Extroversion is negatively associated with both contemporaneous and future return on assets and cash flow."

Won't you look at that?

Might your powerful, gregarious, touchy-feely CEO actually not be so good at delivering what some like to call results?

Might they, in fact, use their extroversion in order to help themselves gain remarkable bonuses remarkably quickly?

The researchers insist that their conclusions are descriptive and, as with almost every researcher report I've ever read, they plead for more research.

But might there be small windows of enlightenment here for those appointing a new CEO?

And might this research offer a tiny element of prognostication for those relying on their current CEO to deliver?

Or even their chosen presidential candidates, perhaps.