Is Being a CEO in Your DNA?

It’s the age-old question of nature versus nurture rephrased: were you born a CEO or did your environment make you into one? Most of us CEOs have probably considered this before and have some thoughts one way or another about ourselves. To answer the question in a scientific manner, however, let’s start by first determining if there is a universal set of behavioral drives for a CEO.

In my business consulting firm, I use a behavioral assessment tool called the Predictive Index to determine what motivates the behavior of the personnel in my client companies. According to the Predictive Index, CEOs often have a common behavioral profile. The typical profile of a CEO is someone who has the need to be in control, to dominate, to be autonomous, to take risks, to compete, and to find out-of-the-box solutions. Typical CEOs embrace change, and they can often be found starting arguments just to stir the pot and see what comes out. Can you relate?

If we have established that there are common universal behavioral drives for a typical CEO, we can then ask, are behavioral drives established before we’re born? According to the Predictive Index, our DNA, environments, and personal and professional experiences influence our final behavioral hardwiring by our mid 20s. So the answer is that our DNA can play a large role in our propensity for being a successful CEO.

Oh my. If leadership is in our DNA and we can’t change our drives, is everyone with other drives doomed to be poor leaders? What about my laid-back, subservient, non-competitive daughter to whom I’ve dreamed of leaving my company? Do I need to give up on that dream? The answer is: not necessarily.

There is hope for those who do not have the perfect behavioral profile for a typical CEO. It starts with a deep self-awareness and then a desire and clear understanding that your motivational needs may not be the same as others’ and, therefore, you must learn to adapt, not by making permanent changes but by making adaptations to motivate those around you. You can then fill your gaps in other ways. The best way to fill those gaps is by surrounding yourself with people who are strong in areas where you are weak. For example, are you on fire with out-of-the-box solutions but have trouble maintaining regular production of last week’s idea? Partner with someone who excels at maintaining. All of the best leaders, so-called CEO DNA or not, are in tune with their strengths and weaknesses and know when to let others lead.

Anyway, it is important to take CEO DNA with a grain of salt, because, even if you have it, there is no guarantee you can succeed in just any scenario. For all CEOs, success requires the support of the whole company. A strong CEO at one company can move to another and not fit well at all. The goals of the company and the culture of its employees play a big role in the company’s success. For example, a collaborative leader buying a fast-paced, highly creative technology startup that was built around an autonomous CEO will cause the culture to change drastically. The company culture will essentially have to be rebuilt around the new CEO’s behavioral drives in order to thrive.

In closing, your DNA combined with your life experiences play a large role in why you’re a CEO, but if you’re a successful leader, you no doubt have many people around you to thank. And if you lack more CEO drives than you have, there is still hope if you surround yourself with people who fill your gaps.

Shelley Smith is a Senior Consultant with PIMidlantic a management consulting agency located in Annapolis specializing in the Predictive Index. She is also the Owner/CEO of a consulting firm.