Archive for August 13th, 2010

Traits of Successful Business Executives

Friday, August 13th, 2010 -- By ET

I’m doing some literature review for a paper of mine. I came across the following paper:

The Business Executive: The Psychodynamics of a Social Role

By: William E. Henry

The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 54, No. 4, Industrial Sociology (Jan., 1949), pp. 286-291.

(http://www.jstor.org/stable/2770647)

It was written in 1949, and talks about the common characteristics of successful business executives. Typically I do not find these descriptive papers useful, but it is interesting to see how people in 1949 perceive what executives should do to be successful.

The paper listed the following personality patterns that are common for success:

    Achievement Desires
    Mobility Drive
    Idea of Authority
    Ability to Organize Unstructured Situations
    Decisiveness
    Strong Self-Structure
    Apprehension and the Fear of Failure
    Activity and Aggression
    Strong Reality Orientation
    Different Interpersonal Relations with respect to Superiors and Subordinates
    Broken Tie with his own Parents
    Dependency Feelings and Concentration Upon Self

That was a long list, if you check these on people we know, say Steven Jobs, you would probably be amazed how accurate these items can “predict” his success. I’m constantly suspicious of this type of work because they obviously miss the sample of failed cases. It could be the case that people who share these traits fail more, but due to the sample selection problem, we cannot observe them. What if some other factors are driving the success of these people, and they just learned to behave in this way (i.e., behaving in this way does not produce success.)?

This brings back to the argument of my paper: when people assume social roles, they behave according to the perceived traits of these roles. In many situations, the list of characteristics is a result of being successful, not a source of it.


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