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Learning from boardroom perspectives on leader character. 2015

“Directors agreed that the character of the CEO has a tremendous impact. And yet, they don’t spend enough time and effort assessing it.

Ivey Business Journal, January/February 2015

Gerard Seijts, Professor of Organizational Behaviour;
Jeffrey Gandz, Professor of Strategic Leadership;
Alyson Byrne, Post-Doctoral Fellow;
Mary Crossan, Professor of Strategic Management;
all of Ivey Business School at Western University, Ontario.

The authors canvassed 786 current or would-be directors about the on-the-job importance of character and reputation in effective performance, and boards’ effectiveness at assessing those traits.

They focused on 11 character dimensions including courage and humility.

Among other findings:

  • 94% agreed that the character of the CEO has a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of the board
  • 92% believed that a critical role of the board is to evaluate the character of their CEOs and C-suite executives
  • 70% believed that directors spend insufficient time addressing or assessing the character of potential nominees to their boards.

“…directors believe it is possible to assess leader character through deep reference checking, expert interviewing and candid reviews. And yet, they don’t spend enough time and effort doing it.”

One reason appears to be that assessing character is ‘too hard’. To address this, the authors offer a leader character framework along with a self-assessment and 360-degree feedback instrument.

“Second, developing the behaviourally based interviewing skills that can expose character strengths and deficiencies requires training, time and dedicated effort. It is not a trivial exercise.”

“…Boards and their selection committees are also often confronted by a “reputation smokescreen. .. too many believe that it’s just fine to base hiring decisions upon reputations that are not verified. …. All reputations should be checked.”

“Our research also revealed an overemphasis on collaboration amongst board members, often at the cost of courage, accountability and the quality of decisions… Boards are natural breeding grounds for groupthink.”

The authors conclude with six recommendations to improve director search, evaluation, performance review and renewal.


Access the paper here: Learning from boardroom perspectives on leader character.

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  1. Nina Guinness says:

    I was recently at a networking event where the speaker talked about the findings of her PhD on the subject of
    ”the role of social capital and networking in corporate board selection processes”
    And what do you think she found?
    -Half of the chairmen she interviewed used no recruitment agency, they relied on their network and were unapologetic about it.
    -Where there were recruitment agencies involved, they came in and asked the Board first whether they knew anyone, and these ‘known’ people made it to the long list, any semblance of doubt about the person from anyone on the Board got them deleted from the list.
    She concluded that smart networking was everything. It was clear that if you weren’t well connected in the first place you were highly unlikely to make it onto any list.
    This was a talk aimed at people who were already well connected but not using their connections to their full advantage. Of course it is assumed that all of these people who progress by word of mouth are indeed competent in the first place – there was no talk of the obvious potential for corruption in such a system.
    Two things bothered me about the findings
    1)Non-executive directors are supposed to be independent, free from conflicts of interest which should include not having undue loyalty to those they are supposed to hold to account and challenge.
    But clearly this system of recruitment means that you will feel loyalty to those who recommended you and will feel less than inclined to hold them to account or upset them as you will then likely get yourself off the next long list.
    2)It was not clear to me where the line is between good networking and cronyism?