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Qualities of a CEO - Scott Adams' Blog

Qualities of a CEO

Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.
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Qualities of a CEO

 

When you think of a CEO, what personal qualities come to mind?

On the positive side, CEOs are typically smart, energetic, focused, driven, and hardworking. But so are a lot of people who don’t rise to power. We know those qualities alone won’t get you to the very top, at least for 98% of the people with talent and drive.

As a  typical CEO, you might be drawn to high risks. You might possess a good dollop of narcissism, and be fairly high up on the sociopath scale. Greed helps too. And I would imagine that a flexible view of ethics comes in handy. In other words, mental illness is the active ingredient that distinguishes the merely capable from the highly successful. The more mental illness the better, as long as it is the kind that is compatible with capitalism.

Suppose you put the following proposition to two talented young people: You can be a CEO someday, but the price is that you will have two failed marriages and you will barely know your own kids. You will fire dozens or even hundreds of people over your lifetime. Your success will come at the direct expense of others. And your pay will have more to do with your weasel skills at manipulating the board of directors than the long term health of the company. You will move several times, to the distress of your family and friends. On the plus side, you will be rich and respected.

What kind of young person takes that deal? Is it the person with good mental health who wants a life of balance and meaning, or is it the risk-taking, narcissistic sociopath?

We all want the good parts of being a CEO, especially the money and respect, but we could do without the mental illness. Unfortunately, if you want the top job, you’re competing against risk-taking, narcissistic sociopaths who are just as smart and hardworking as you are. Some of them will self-destruct, but like the zombie apocalypse there will always be another coming at you. In the long run, the crazies always run the show.

I’m the CEO of my own company now (the Dilbert business), and that required me to work a ten year stretch, for about twelve hours a day, without a day off. Does that sound like good mental health to you? And had I stayed in the corporate world, I would have employed all of my mental dysfunctions toward clawing my way into the executive suite. I’m not too proud to admit I probably have just the right mixture of mental problems to pull that off:

Risk taking? (Check!)

Narcissism (I have the perfect amount!)

Sociopath (I call it compartmentalizing!)

Flexible moral compass (Yay for capitalism!)

OCD (It will look like hard work to you!)

I’ll concede that many CEOs are nice people with perfectly acceptable mental health. But I know most of you are reading this post and nodding your heads when I say your chances of becoming a CEO are better if you have some mental abnormalities to complement your natural talent.

So, given this context of mental abnormalities in CEOs, what is the biggest question in the news this month? Answer: “How can we get more women into leadership positions?”

The lack of female CEOs has to do with a number of factors including sex discrimination, social conditioning, and the glass ceiling. But I would think some of it has to do with the fact that more men than women have mental health problems of the specific sort that are compatible with capitalism.

I’m enjoying Sheryl Sandberg’s take on why there aren’t more women in leadership jobs. She raises lots of good points. But I don’t think we can ignore the mental health angle.