Russell Reynolds Discusses The Three Types of CEOs & Choosing the Right Type

When the business media talks about CEOs, they tend to either lionize or demonize them.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing bailouts, the media’s coverage of corporations and the C-suite naturally focused on the “villain” CEO. As the world emerged from the crisis and the impact of digital disruption started to be felt across the business world, the focus shifted toward the star—the disruptor CEO. And of course the crisis-stricken CEO—grappling with a formidable challenge or potentially businessdestroying incident—is a figure of perpetual fascination.

These stories captivate us.

But do they represent reality?

And more importantly, are they helpful to companies trying to select CEOs?

Having explored the psychology of CEOs in “Inside the Mind of the CEO,” we decided to investigate another fundamental question using psychometric data: what types of CEOs are companies choosing from?

When a board begins to look for a new CEO, what should be its starting point for that search?

Put simply: what should it look for?

To address this question, we merged two lines of research thinking—one “old-school” and one driven by cutting-edge data techniques. We wanted to understand what kinds of strategic needs companies have and what types of CEOs there are for them to choose from. We used the following methodology:

Academic research—how do we categorize business strategies? We examined more than 30 business taxonomies to try to understand how organizational researchers have traditionally categorized the set of opportunities and threats a business is facing, or will face. Our final synthesis was particularly indebted to Miles and Cameron’s seminal 1982 notions of domain offense, domain defense, and domain creation.

Data-driven analysis—can data mining show us naturally occurring groups of CEOs? Using binary (high/low) representations of the 60 psychometric attributes in our model, we conducted a cluster analysis to understand whether the 200+ CEOs in our sample could be sorted into meaningful subgroups.

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