Can nice guys (or gals) finish first?

That is the question that John Hausknecht, assistant professor of Human Resource Studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, wanted to know.  In conjunction with Green Peak Partners, a Denver-based organizational consulting firm, Hausknecht and his research team conducted a unique longitudinal study of 72 senior executives to define the qualities that lead an executive to excel in his or her position.

The study consisted of two phases:

  • Phase 1: Between 2005 and 2008, Green Peak Partners conducted four-hour background interviews (covering family, education, early-career and recent professional experiences) with executives to identify individuals’ qualities, leadership styles and technical competence.
  • Phase 2: Between April and October 2009, researchers then interviewed those executives’ supervisors, to determine how well the execs performed on the job.

What made this study special is that it examined both short- and long-term indicators of executive performance for a relatively large sample of individuals.  Some of the study’s findings were surprising:

– Interpersonal skills mattered. Executives with weak interpersonal skills rated poorly:

  • on their ability to deliver bottom-line results;
  • on every performance dimension, including managing talent, inspiring followership, business/technical acumen and strategic intellect;
  • as people managers.

– Self-awareness was a primary driver of an executive’s effectiveness. A high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

– While gender and birth order did not correlate with performance, executives with more siblings were better at driving results.

– “Bully” traits were typically signs of incompetence and lack of strategic intellect. While traits such as being “arrogant,” “impatient,” and “stubborn” are often viewed as part of a business-building culture, they correlated to low ratings for delivering financial results, business and technical acumen, (and not surprisingly) managing talent and being a team player.

– Experience at multiple companies did not predict executive success. In fact, the study found that candidates who changed jobs frequently were often trying to outrun problems.

Can nice guys (or gals) finish first?

According to J. P. Flaum, Managing Partner, and Dr. Becky Winkler, Principal, at Green Peak Partners, soft values drive hard results.  Strong bottom-line executive performance is most likely to come from those who are both emotionally intelligent and self-aware.  According to Winkler, “Our findings directly challenge the conventional view that ‘drive for results at all costs’ is the right approach.  The executives most likely to deliver good bottom-line results are actually self-aware leaders who are especially good at working with individuals and in teams.”

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Using our unique food & beverage recruiting and assessment processes, The Kinsa Group specializes in placing qualified professionals and senior-to-executive level management candidates who will drive bottom-line results in your organization.  Contact Kinsa today.

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