Korn Ferry

Finding the Keys to the Corner Office

James Lewis

See the new issue of Briefings magazine, available at newsstands and online.

It matters in wars, in most sports and, to some extent, in games of chance. But does it really take courage to get into the upper echelons of a company?

Slowly but surely, science is finding ways to measure the traits and skills that tend to succeed in corporate hallways, and it’s getting more exact by the day. In fact, based on executive responses from Korn Ferry’s Four Dimensions of Leadership Assessment (KF4D) tests, it’s possible to rank the skills in two ways: those more common among C-suite types than midlevel managers, and those in more successful or engaged top executives. In other words, a guide to getting into the corner office—and staying there.

Looking at these traits by industry, it turns out fortune does indeed favor the bold, with courage the top trait in the financial services sector, and the second highest in professional business services. It’s also in the top five of at least three other major fields. But a bit of advice for C-suite executives: tuck that brashness away once you’ve made it to the top. Managing ambiguity, instilling trust, planning, persuading—these are the top traits for highly engaged versus low-engaged C-suite types.

Of course, no guide is perfect, and few people can pull off a personality makeover. The takeaway: Try. “It’s not easy for someone who doesn’t innately possess specific competencies to start exhibiting them,” says Stu Crandell, senior vice president, Korn Ferry Institute. “But proper development and practice can help.”



  • James Lewis

    Senior Director, Research, Korn Ferry Institute