THE RISE OF THE NICE CEO?
In recent years, many companies have researched the value of personality studies using widely-accepted
models such as the Five-Factor Model, or “Big Five,” and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
These studies are
increasingly helpful tools in self-evaluation and career guidance, and offer the best way to improve the performance
of top executives, including CEOs.
We believe there is sufficient evidence to support the case that “nice” CEOs do
a better job for companies, and that these individuals, who may rank highly in the trait of Agreeableness, increase
employee satisfaction and company value, no matter what the industry.
In the last half century, a majority of businesses have been run with an authoritative approach to company
In recent years, this approach has been challenged.
The book, “The No A-hole Rule: Building a
Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,” Author Robert Sutton (2007) articulates this challenge to the
traditional approach of running a business.
Coupled with recent evidence, a case can be made that Sutton is correct
and that the personalities and contrasting fortunes of Nardelli, McNerney, and Immelt are not pure coincidence.
In Sutton’s recent book, he cites three facts in the modern workforce.
First, that one out of every two
employees has worked for an abusive superior.
Second, that employing an A-hole is expensive.
interactions have five times the wallop that nice interactions do (www.bnet.com Book Brief, 2007).
We will take
these facts and apply them to a comparison of the three aforementioned CEOs.
James McNerney, CEO of Boeing, is quick to discredit his influence on the success of Boeing since he was
hired in 2005.
Crediting the company’s success via its engineers and employees, McNerney’s high level of
agreeableness and emotional stability has made one former GE colleague conclude that, “The guy is loved over
there at Boeing” (Robbins and Judge, 2009).
Similarly, Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, has a high level of extraversion on
the Big Five Model of personality dimensions.
He has solidified a reputation described as gregarious and adept at
building relationships (Robbins and Judge, 2007).
In contrast to McNerney and Immelt, Bob Nardelli, former CEO
of Home Depot, who was known for his explosive temper and arrogance, was terminated back in 2006 in no small
part because of these personality characteristics.
Studies have indicated that people with these major personality
attributes are rated less effective at their jobs, particularly when it comes to helping other people.
The idea prevalent
here is that it is not simply circumstance that has driven the success of both Immelt and McNerney and failure of
The personality traits in all three played a significant role in their respective outcomes.