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A Leader Learning Gap? Digging into our CEO Data

Updating The Whole Brain Business Book has been a fascinating experience. One of the most interesting aspects has been looking at what our HBDI® data tells us today about how business people think, and in particular, how the C-Suite thinks.

As we saw when the research was conducted nearly 20 years ago for the original book, CEOs are a unique breed. What’s consistently true is that no matter what changes are occurring in the world—whether it’s the economy, demographics, market trends, technological advances and new regulations, or disruptions, catastrophic events and other factors—the data reveals that CEOs are different when it comes to thinking preferences. On average they tend to have strong preferences across all four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model (analytical, structured, interpersonal and strategic)—more so than any other occupational group.

This might explain the puzzlement people often feel when trying to “psych out” the CEO. To an uninformed observer, this balanced profile, what we call multi-dominant preferences, can appear both disarming and tough to pin down because of the wide array of interests, approaches and “clues” they provide.

It also explains why CEOs as a group are so effective at the role they play in overseeing numerous different specialized functional leaders. Their multi-dominance provides them with the ability to translate ideas from the language of one quadrant or function to the next.

It’s a crucial skill when the time comes to take action: CEOs and other C-suite leaders have to be able to advance facts and data toward conclusions and articulate concepts and incorporate the human factors into those concepts and synthesize many ideas into a few. The power to lead and communicate clearly with a variety of internal “tribes” in such a way that they effectively work together is the critical competitive work that must take place at the C Level.

The richness of the HBDI® Profile data in our database of global CEOs provides endless insights and information to slice and dice. One area we looked at was the “work elements” section, which is a part of the assessment that asks the person to force rank the work elements that represent the types of tasks or activities (e.g., problem solving, innovating, expressing ideas, planning, etc.) they have to do to perform their job.

We found that the work element “Teaching/Training” was near the bottom of the list for CEOs in all of the 12 countries we studied. This data point mirrors a recent Deloitte study that showed less than half of all C-suite executives care about developing the leadership skills of their people.

These findings are particularly worrisome as companies could face a huge knowledge gap when these C-level leaders leave. While there’s been plenty of talk about addressing the looming “leadership crisis” and thin leadership pipelines, companies aren’t going to be able to hire their way out of it—and the C-level can’t outsource this task entirely. They need to take an active role in mentoring, developing and transferring their knowledge and expertise to the next generation.

What do you think? Have you noticed that C-level leaders seem to have that ability to “translate” from one thinking quadrant to another? And are you seeing those at the top do what they need to do to groom the next generation?

If you’d like to learn more about our study of CEO thinking preferences, let us know. And be sure to mark your calendar for the 2015 ATD International Conference & Exposition, where Ann Herrmann-Nehdi will present the session, “How Global Leaders Think: Development Strategies from New Research.

In the meantime, watch for additional updates on the new edition of The Whole Brain Business Book, which will be released in 2015.

Get your copy of the Whole Brain Business Book here!

Tags: Research, Leadership Advice, leadership development, Thinking Preferences

The four-color, four-quadrant graphic, HBDI® and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.

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The Whole Brain Business Book 2nd Edition

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