What motivates someone to want to be a CEO? According to a recently published study by Korn Ferry Institute there are “plenty of people well prepared to be CEOs but ambivalent about stepping into the role.” Those who aspire to be CEOs, according to the study, are motivated primarily by power and a drive to achieve, reflected in a desire to influence strategy.
I have no doubt that there is an element of truth in asserting that effective CEOs are motivated by power and achievement. That said, none of the effective CEOs I know and have worked with are primarily motivated by a desire for power for its own sake. It is more complicated than that.
I discussed the study with a one of my clients, the CEO of a large Canadian wealth management firm. His take, and I concur, is that power and achievement motives are undoubtedly a factor in wanting to become a CEO. But, they are means to an end.
Power motivation enables a CEO to be comfortable (even excited) with making big decisions that impact the lives of others and the fate of an enterprise. Used thoughtfully, the exercise of power makes bold strategy with its inherent risk possible.
The drive to achieve compels the CEO to drive the organization to ever higher levels of quality and effectiveness. This push for an ever higher level of performance helps assure that the organization avoids the threat of becoming self-congratulatory and complacent.
Overly cautious CEOs who are ambivalent about exercising power will eventually fail. This is particularly true for CEOs leading organizations challenged by change and uncertainty. Their ambivalence causes them to become paralyzed by conflicting points of view and to procrastinate on making the tough strategic and talent decisions. Poor financial performance caused by an inability to mobilize the organization to face the challenge of transformation is the inevitable result.
Comfort with power and the drive for achievement are rooted in personality and thus difficult to change. But with the help of a skilled advisor, a CEO can come to recognize when he needs to override an instinct for caution and learn to act more forcefully when required.
What are your thoughts about the appropriate use of power by CEOs? Please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org