Getting to the Top of the Class
BusinessWeek’s entire double issue this week is about competition (August 21/28). There are several interesting facts about what it takes to win according to their poll of 2,500 American managers and executives. One question was about who would make a better CEO? The choices were captain of your high school football team, the class valedictorian or the homecoming king or queen. After reading the first article in the cover feature written by Joe Torre, manager of the New York Yankees, I figured the response to this question would of course be the sports coach. However, not so. The verdict was class valedictorian. This brainy response beat out the football captain two to one and the homecoming king or queen nine to one. Clearly there is a recognition that you need deep smarts to be able to compete in business today.
Something else hit me as I was thinking about the surprising choice of class valedictorian. In the BusinessWeek feature, both the football team captain and homecoming winner were pictured as men. The class valedictorian was female. Despite the low number of female Fortune 500 CEOs, this juxtaposition on the BusinessWeek page struck me as an interesting insight into the future. In a recent feature in The New York Times, women were reportedly leaving men in the dust in terms of grades and honors on college campuses. Is it possible that as women increasingly win top honors in high school and college, we will see a flourish of female leaders? Possible but not probable. Smarts only gets executives so far. There are several other ingredients that must be on tap for executives to make it to the top — emotional intelligence, fairness, integrity, optimism, and the ability to communicate and listen to others. The right choice to the BusinessWeek question should have been the class valedictorian who also led the football team and had the charm of the homecoming queen.