Goldilocks For CEO!

Last week, The Harvard Business Review posted an article called The Dangers of Hiring a Nice CEO, written by leadership consultants at ghSMART.

The article points out that company boards of directors oftentimes ‘over-weight’ social skills when making CEO hiring decisions and that ‘overly nice’ CEOs:

Hang onto marginal performers too long
Continuously change company priorities to placate different constituents
They state: the problem is not with kindness or empathy – leaders can be both caring and effective. However, CEOS who are decisive are much more likely to deliver good company performance. They challenge CEOs to test themselves to determine if they’ve fallen into the “niceness” trap.

This is a well-written article with some nice data to support their conclusions. However, why stop there? The same ‘too much of a good thing is a bad thing’ rule applies to other characteristics as well.

With 25 years of experience as an industrial/organizational psychologist, I have conducted over 15,000 management assessments – across all industries, and many of which were C-level executives. A management assessment consists of diagnostic testing/interview to determine a candidate’s strengths/weaknesses. Companies use this information to determine the best candidate for a given role. The ‘best candidate’ is the one that aligns to the job duties and company culture.

It doesn’t take 25 years of experience to note what most elementary children understand – too little or too much of something isn’t too good.


  • Assertiveness
    • Too much: a leader becomes overly demanding, domineering, bossy – producing poor morale, increased turnover and unsustained growth.
    • Too little: a meek leader who is ‘too nice’ – producing the problems listed in the HBR article
  • Attention To Detail
    • Too much: a leader who micromanages and under-delegates—producing low morale and a process bottleneck.
    • Too little: a leader who is too removed from the daily operations – producing regular ‘surprises’ by events/customers/problems.
  • Decisiveness
    • Too much: a leader who makes decisions too quickly without forethought/analysis – producing poor decisions/direction.
    • Too little: a leader who suffers from analysis paralysis, — producing stagnation and an unwillingness to move the business forward.

We could go on and on. The ideal CEO is oftentimes one who is above average (but not extreme) on many/most on a wide range of traits/characteristics, such as:

  • Decisiveness
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Efficiency/productivity
  • Social Skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Organization/Attention-to-detail
  • Ambition, drive, competitiveness
  • Work ethic

Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Take a look at the traits below and you’ll see that it is hard to get ‘too much’ of a couple of traits:

  • Integrity
  • Analytical skills

One could argue that an extremely analytical person can ‘over-analyze’ issues, but that is not necessarily the case. There are plenty of examples of people who are extremely bright but also quick-thinkers and are decisive.

The point? We want CEOs (and all co-workers) to be nice…just like we want them to be smart, organized, hard-working, etc. But every kindergartener knows that too much of something can be a bad thing. The trick is to find/attract and retain leaders with just the ‘right’ amount of important leadership qualities. If you don’t believe me, go to the forest, and ask for Goldilocks.