1. Attackers. Attackers commonly exist in a business context where companies are trying to expand relatively quickly by edging out direct competitors. These CEOs are flexible and creative thinkers with thick skins and even-tempered demeanors. CEOs found to fall under this category include Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman and Novo Nordisk’s Lars Sørensen.
2. Fortifiers. Fortifiers are tasked with defending their market position, often with a focus on driving operational efficiencies. These pragmatic and hard-working individuals feel a strong sense of duty to others and are more likely to embrace consensus decision-making. CEOs found to fall under this category include former Ford CEO Alan Mulally and BHP Billiton’s former CEO Paul Anderson.
3. Genesis. This final category consists of leaders who are tasked with inventing new products, services and entire business models. These stubborn, yet sensitive, creative thinkers eschew rules and are comfortable taking action on their own. CEOs found to fall under this category include Uber’s Travis Kalanik and Netflix’s Reed Hastings.
There are cases where overlaps occur. Russell Reynolds singled out GM CEO Mary Barra as someone capable of successfully transitioning among all three groups. When the auto company was still struggling to emerge from its government-funded bankruptcy, she took on crucial fortification traits, before shifting to attack mode nine months into her tenure when she faced the faulty ignition-switch scandal. Now, Barra is in genesis mode as she invests in ride-sharing apps, as well as electric and self-driving cars.
“The best CEOs are able to pivot between contexts,” Russell Reynolds said, acknowledging that no business would want someone who fits 100% into a single category. “The best decisions will be made by determining the proportions of the needed profiles and finding the person who best matches that mix of attributes.”