The optimal period in position for a CEO is estimated to be 7-15 years. CEOs featured on an HBR list of best-performing executives had an average been in post for 15 years. 

The average CEO tenure in the UK is less than five years, skewed by some very short tenures.

Longevity in a position yields some clear benefits – and suggests a realistic attitude towards the ups and downs of even the best performers. As the novelist, Jean Giradoux put it, “Only the mediocre are always at their best”.

But very long tenures can be very damaging – and even the best leaders have their Use By dates. Once seen as a business genius, Jack Welch is now widely considered to have stayed on for too long at GE, and his legacy was ultimately not sustainable.

Leaders big on personality but short on humility, often start well with an inspiring vision and the support of adoring acolytes, and then self-destruct or fade away.

Those leaders who seek the serve their organisations (rather than expecting the organisation to serve their needs) for just the right length of time are in stark contrast. 

It’s easy to overlook the impact of a leader’s personality on the organisation’s culture, levels of engagement and retention of the workforce, and ultimately its overall performance.

When leaders derail, there’s a good chance the organisation will leave the track – sometimes catastrophically.

The Hogan Development Survey is widely recognised as a powerful tool for assessing leaders’ personalities. Its developer, Robert Hogan, has long warned that we dismiss the link between a leader’s personality and organisational effectiveness at our peril.

Many of us will have recognised weaknesses in leaders throughout our business careers and politics. Most leaders who rise to the top in any organisation are intellectually sound; it’s their personality traits that compromise their organisation’s success. 

 

Common damaging personality traits include:

Narcissism

Leaders interested in power and its trappings will put their interests before those of the organisation.

Blurring the truth

Whether it’s a singularly held viewpoint, a deliberate spin or an ‘alternative truth’, blurring the lines between truth and lies is a danger sign. Rules become guidelines, and trust is eroded. At its worst, the dishonesty can become criminal, and the organisation, if it survives its leader’s downfall, is tarnished.

The Showman/woman 

The charismatic leader who expects their senior team to fall into line and indulge their arrogant tendencies. Following such a leader who creates a sense of invincibility and fun is undeniably engaging – if you’re part of the in-crowd. But watch your back if you break ranks.

Volatility

A volatile leader creates a stressful level of unpredictability and an environment that irradicates trust and candour. It becomes impossible to get a handle on the culture being set from the top when a leader is inconsistent. Normal behaviour one day can become taboo tomorrow as the leader’s agenda changes, and they find a new group to please.

These leadership traits can create an intoxicating culture for those who are part of it. It is seldom dull, but it is likely to be short-lived, alienates the ‘not-we’ and is ultimately unsafe for individuals and the organisation.

Intellect, competence and understanding of the business, markets and organisational environment remain at the top of the must-have traits for longevity in leadership. But we are increasingly finding that trust, openness, embracing talent, the importance of the team over individual, and organisational context, are equally crucial in leaders seeking to make a long-term positive impact.

A new generation of workers, less tolerant of the toxicity of deeply flawed leaders, are seeking great places to work, and expect a culture of flexibility, inclusiveness, and collaboration.

If Leadership personality drives organisational effectiveness, then new approaches or new leaders would be needed.  We explore some of the factors leaders need to be successful in our research report, It’s time for a new kind of leader.

Download it's time for a new kind of leader

 

If you need to ask if you have the right kind of leaders in your organisation, you may already be in trouble. But the warning signs are usually evident for those brave enough to take a few steps back for an honest appraisal.

And then some difficult conversations may need to happen.

Ultimately, the organisation must prevail for the long term, while the leader and top team are transient.

But their personalities whilst in position can be destructive – and even terminal.

If you need help with any aspects of your organisational leadership, please get in touch. 

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