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Distinguishing CEOs from Top Level Management: A Profile Analysis of Individual Differences, Career Paths and Demographics

Abstract

Purpose

Identifying the characteristics of chief executive officers (CEOs) has been a longstanding goal in leadership and individual differences research. The purpose of this exploratory study was to consider which individual difference and career path variables differentiate CEOs from other senior managers.

Design/Methodology/Approach

Participants (N = 1152) were UK-based senior managers (n = 1040) and CEOs (n = 112) who completed a self-report measure of the Five Factor Model of personality (NEO-PI-R), a measure of cognitive ability (graduate and management aptitude test), and answered a number of additional questions on their career paths as part of development centres. Analyses comprised inter-individual mean difference tests, intra-individual external profile analysis and logistic regression.

Findings

Results indicated that personality facets of impulsiveness, vulnerability, activity and dutifulness showed the largest mean differences. No significant effects were found for the criterion profile pattern, but significant effects were found for profile level. Of the additional predictors, career path variables were the strongest predictors of CEO status.

Implications

The combination of significant effects across domains of individual differences and career path variables emphasizes the importance of a multivariate approach in the study of leadership, top management teams and career progression.

Originality/Value

The current study combines personality, cognitive ability, demographic and career path variables, and applies intra-individual methodologies to explore the characteristics of the very top level of organisational hierarchy.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Prof. Mark Davison (Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota) for comments on an early draft of this manuscript, and John Crump from Kaisen Consulting for access to the data.

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Correspondence to Tom Booth.

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Booth, T., Murray, A.L., Overduin, M. et al. Distinguishing CEOs from Top Level Management: A Profile Analysis of Individual Differences, Career Paths and Demographics. J Bus Psychol 31, 205–216 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-015-9416-7

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Keywords

  • Personality
  • Five factor model
  • Profile analysis
  • CEO