'Warmth and modesty' make the best CEOs, says study

Being ruthless is a rarity and unlikely to get you promoted to the best management positions, according to the latest survey.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Ever been yelled at, had paperwork thrown at you or been otherwise humiliated by your boss in the office? Unlikely, if a survey of 500 CEOs earning more than £70,000 is to be believed. The survey, conducted by children’s literacy charity, Volunteer Reading Help, discovered that ‘warmth, intelligence and a sense of humour’ were the qualities that CEOs think are best for climbing to the top in the business world.

Conversely, just 2% of respondents described themselves as ‘ruthless’ bosses. But who ever expected the other 98% to admit that they bear any likeness with David Brent? In fact, it’s worse than that: a third of CEOs cited their ‘good looks’ as a major reason for having reached the top. In an exercise of unadulterated self-praise, they also pointed to their own capacity for ‘inspiring confidence, and good timing’, as well as (ironically), ‘modesty’. Pah! But then, at £70,000 the charity has set the bar rather low – they haven’t reached the highest echelons of UK plc with a salary the same as some strike-happy tube drivers…

Jokes and egos aside though, the research was designed to explore the role played by literacy in professional success, and it found that 60% were also regular readers. The charity’s CEO, Sue Porto, said: ‘It’s the old adage of people wanting to work with people they like and proves that hard work, persistence and being decent pays dividends in the long run.’ A nice MT-style pun there, Sue.

The study found that around 60% of CEOs have read self-help and motivational books to inspire them, ‘showing that books are still valuable resources for successful people’, and more than half still read books regularly. That really is rather lovely, but from the attitude of this particular crop of CEOs, it sounds like what they need is a mirror, not a book…

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