CEOs: 7 ways their height, humility and age affects organizations

Recent research has examined how CEOs' physical and personality traits affect their paychecks, collegiality and the health of the organizations they lead.

Along with this research, other surveys have found commonalities among CEOs' names and the forecasted rise of women in the C-suite. Below are seven studies or surveys that tell us more about CEOs across all industries.

1. Male CEOs tend to be taller than average, and height differences among CEOs are linked to differences in pay. A study of 1.3 million Swedish men found the average height to be five feet and 10.5 inches, whereas CEOs of large companies stood at an average of six feet, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Furthermore, executives who were one standard deviation above the mean in height were paid 4 percent more than the average CEO, according to the study findings. Researchers said the findings suggest some people may perceive height as a signal of an individual's leadership skills since it is immediately observable.

2. The more humble the CEO, the happier the top- and mid-level managers. Or this dynamic seems to hold in Eastern societies or those that value collectivism, at least. A study, led by a business professor at Arizona State University, interviewed CEOs of 63 private Chinese companies to assess the presence of leadership traits associated with Confucianism, such as self-awareness, openness to feedback, focus on the greater good and others' welfare, and opposition to dwelling on oneself. Researchers also surveyed 1,000 top- and mid-level managers who worked with the CEOs. CEOs' humility was measured on a 1-6 scale, and the mean fell at 4.47, meaning most of the CEOs had humble tendencies.

When the CEO was measured as humble, top-level managers reported more meaning and confidence in their work, greater desire to participate in decision-making and a greater sense of autonomy. Top-level managers also were more motivated to collaborate, make joint decisions and share information. Middle managers reported feeling more engaged and committed to their jobs when the top boss was more humble. Since the study was based on Chinese companies, it may merit further exploration on how or whether these findings are applicable in Western societies like the United States, which are more individualistic.

3. The most common names among male CEOs are short and often one syllable, whereas those for female CEOs are often multi-syllable names. In 2011, some of the most common female CEO names were Deborah, Cynthia and Carolyn, according to a LinkedIn study. The most common male CEO names from that time were Peter, Bob and Jack. A name specialist speculated that men in power may use nicknames to offer a sense of friendliness and openness, whereas women may use their full names in an effort to project professionalism and gravitas.

4. There is correlation between CEO compensation and narcissism. Researchers analyzed employee feedback from 32 of the biggest technology corporations in the U.S. to assess CEO narcissism, according to a Business Insider report. Narcissism was defined as "a sense of personal superiority, grandiosity, dominance, and a desire for power," along with low empathy and the tendency to become hostile when confronted with criticism. Researchers also acquired letters to shareholders for the year 2009 when available, as well as transcripts of quarterly earnings calls in which the CEO was present. They counted the number of first-person pronouns, on the assumption that a focus on "I" and "me" rather than "we" and "us" implied self-centeredness. Only one of the 32 CEOs in the analysis was female, and the CEOs' average age was 51.7.

As a group, narcissistic CEOs who have been with their firm longer receive more total direct compensation (salary, bonus and stock options), have more money in their total shareholdings and have larger discrepancies between their compensation and the other members of their team. For instance, narcissistic CEOs with high tenure made an average of $512 million more than less-narcissistic peers who spent the same amount of time at their companies.

5. Related to CEO pay, recent research suggests the more CEOs of for-profit companies are paid, the worse their companies do throughout the next three years. As a group, for-profit companies run by CEOs who were paid at the top 10 percent of the scale had the worst performance, returning 10 percent less to shareholders than did their industry peers. Study authors said overconfidence is a factor for this counter-intuitive conclusion. CEOs who are paid most may ignore disconfirming information and assume they are correct. The study also found a link between CEOs' tenure and company performance: The longer CEOs were at the helm, the worse their companies did. One possible reason is CEOs' appointment of allies as board members, which decreases resistance to a CEO's poor decisions.

6. The likelihood a for-profit company will receive a takeover bid is sharply higher when the target CEO is near age 65. Researchers from Stanford (Calif.) University and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., examined characteristics of CEOs and companies from the 1997-1999 merger wave. If the company was led by a CEO under retirement age, there was an annual probability of 4.4 percent that the company would receive a successful takeover bid. But when the CEO was 64-66 years in age, that probability increased to 5.8 percent. "This corresponds to a 32 percent increase in the odds of a sale," the researchers wrote. The effects were similar if all bids instead of only successful bids were analyzed, suggesting bidders are more likely to target companies that are led by a CEO near retirement age, perhaps due to the CEOs' greater willingness to accept a takeover bid.

7. Up to one-third of new CEO appointments at the world's largest companies will be women by 2040, based on findings from the 14th annual Chief Executive Study from Strategy&, which examined CEO turnover and incoming CEOs at the world's largest 2,500 public companies. The forecasted rise in women CEOs across all industries is based on a 10-year trend in the company's data, high education among women, continued entry of women into the business workforce and changing social norms. Over the last 10 years, there have been 75 percent more women CEOs in the incoming than outgoing classes. Still, despite these gains, women made up 3 percent of the incoming CEO class in 2013 — a 1.3 percent drop from 2012.


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