What does it take to become a CEO today?

Drawing on the world’s most comprehensive leadership study, as well as thousands of hours of interviews with CEO candidates, ghSMART's CEO advisors Elena Botelho and Kim Powell overturn the myths about what it takes to achieve the corner office.

When we flip on the news, or check our social media feeds, we are bombarded with images of well-groomed, Ivy league-educated icons of the Fortune 100. And we can’t help but think: I could never be them. In fact, they come from surprisingly varied backgrounds. Of the 6 million CEOs of companies in America, only 7% went to an elite school—and 8% didn't graduate college at all. Some are immigrants; many worked their way up through the ranks from entry-level positions.

So, what do they do differently from the rest of us?  They:

  • Decide with Conviction and Speed
  • Practice Relentless Reliability
  • Are Relationship Masters
  • Are Proactive in Adapting to Changing Circumstances

ghSMART's CEO Genome® project deconstructs these four essential behaviors (as featured in Harvard Business Review), and demystifies the career decisions that helped these leaders accelerate upwards to more and more responsibility. Finally, it identifies and distills the key practices that can help every one of us reach for the top.

About the Authors

About the ghSMART CEO Genome® research

The CEO Genome® research was conducted over 15 years as part of ghSMART’s CEO Genome® project. Our data set of assessments of 27,000 C-suite executives—including more than 2,000 CEOs—covers all major industry sectors, and companies ranging from the Fortune 100 down to $10 million businesses.

This database includes details on career and education, patterns of behavior, business results, and performance for each executive. The data was gathered by ghSMART in 4-to-5 hour interviews with every executive, often supplemented by interviews with their teams, board members, and business associates.

Our team of 14 researchers—made up of psychologists; economists led by Professor Steven N. Kaplan at the University of Chicago and Professor Morten Sorensen at Copenhagen Business School; statisticians, financial markets experts; and data scientists at SAS Inc. and NYU—analyzed the data for statistically significant patterns to differentiate:

  1. Candidates who got hired for CEO roles from those who didn’t get the job, and
  2. CEOs who met or exceeded expectations from those who underperformed

The research was conducted using cutting-edge analytical techniques to identify the factors associated with the candidates most likely to be hired and to perform strongly in CEO roles. The results of that analysis led us distill our research into the CEO essential behaviors.

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