The PROPHET/Boyden Insights Series are brief articles providing understanding on leadership roles and executive team dynamics. The insights are based on the leadership styles of 10,000 executives and more than 2,500 C-suite leaders, representing organisations worldwide of different sizes, across all sectors. Each article provides statistically significant patterns of CEO behavior; explains the business implications and offers advice for optimising collective performance. In this first article, we review how CEOs prefer motivating their people versus handling the details.

The majority of CEOs may start with zeal, galvanising people around a vision - but lose steam when it comes to detail.

Most CEOs prefer to spend their time influencing others: convincing and persuading people, making them feel good. They seem optimistic and empathetic and are likely to have a gift for communicating vision and showing leadership. They are less motivated by detail, order and consistency, which may lead to tension in working relationships. Starting out with great zeal, the majority of CEOs may lose focus and energy in implementing vision and strategy.

Note: differences between CEOs and the executive population are measured using a Chi Squared test (i.e. in each test, P=0). This test determines whether there is a statistically significant difference between the expected frequencies and the observed frequencies in one or more categories.

Data gathered through PROPHET creates a wealth of insight to complement our understanding of leaders in the C-suite and other senior roles. Boyden experts leverage this intelligence, combining it with their expertise, enabling organisations to optimise individual and team performance at the highest levels.

Trina Gordon, President & CEO, Boyden

The typical PROPHET Profile of CEOs

From more than 300 CEOs profiled by PROPHET, data shows CEOs would prefer to spend time ‘Influencing and persuading others’ and ‘generating motivation towards a goal,’ than ‘working on the detail of tasks’: 73% show a strong preference for Influencing others – 30 times greater than the percentage showing a strong preference for Order and detail.

Only 2.3% of CEOs show a strong preference for ‘Order’ namely, ‘being careful,’ ‘organised’ and ‘rigorous,’ and only 7.5% show a strong preference for ‘Systematic’ working, namely ‘working in a structured and planned fashion’. CEOs have a statistically significant lower preference in these two areas compared with both their leadership team colleagues and the executive population.


The PROPHET Study involved 308 CEOs, 2,778 C-suite leaders, and 10,000 from the executive population, profiled during assignments in executive search, on-boarding and leadership development. They come from over 90 countries and typically lead medium or large organisations. 


Business implications

Due to their strong preference for Influencing, CEOs are most likely to be thinking about, debating and communicating the vision and strategy, spending time convincing and persuading stakeholders – vital for aligning people with corporate goals. A typical CEO is usually strong on ideas and great at selling a vision to motivate people.

However, given that their natural state is very different to others, these preferences will be noticed or felt in interactions and relationships. With a comparatively stronger preference for Influencing others – and a lower preference for Order than most – executives may feel that the CEO does not exhibit calm or predictable behaviour or deliver consistent, step-by-step, messaging that can be understood and broadly assimilated. Furthermore, CEOs may not translate a declared vision into actions that enable behaviour or process change, resulting in direct reports and their teams not understanding what the CEO’s vision means for them in their day-to-day roles.

Tactics to get the best from the CEO

Of course, CEOs need to be fully in control of detail and are usually highly capable in this, managing their time to absorb detail when they have the most energy. At other times, there are practical actions executives can take to support the typical CEO in mitigating differences in preference:

This doesn’t reflect me / or the CEO I work with

Not all CEOs conform to this profile; for example, 5% of CEOs have a low preference for Influencing. In this situation, a CEO may need to be encouraged to share their vision and more deliberately motivate direct reports and their teams. Whilst this low preference for Influencing is not the ‘norm,’ these individuals may be no less successful in their role and outcomes; they will, however, approach the role with a very different style.

Questions to consider

About Boyden and Building High Performing Teams

Boyden is a premier leadership and talent advisory firm, with more than 75 offices in 45 countries. With over 150 certified practitioners, Boyden uses PROPHET in leadership consulting engagements and also in executive search; fast-tracking the assignment, enhancing the relationship between client and candidate and supporting the successful integration of the appointed executive into their new team.

PROPHET is not used to inform a selection decision, as it is not predictive of performance. It does, however, provide valuable insight on how an individual will approach their role and the style of their decision-making. With PROPHET, the appointed executive and key stakeholders will have an initial understanding each other’s work preferences, establishing a high-performing business relationship from the outset.

PROPHET (Predictive Role Profiling for High-Performing Executive Teams) is a business-focused profiling tool specifically designed for senior executives. It is both a valid psychometric instrument registered with the British Psychological Society, and a powerful team and organisational insight instrument. PROPHET sheds light into working relationships in a way that is quick and relevant, helping form high-performing teams. It is used globally by organisations of different sizes, across all sectors.

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