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The Myth of Pedigree and Charisma - 3 things you are looking for that don't matter

I've noticed that many organizations focus, explicitly or implicitly, on certain qualities when searching for a new leader that don't necessarily have a direct impact on performance and the ability to generate results. In this article, I'll discuss three of these commonly sought-after qualities and why they may not be as crucial as many people think. I am not saying that these qualities are not useful, but rather that many different types of personalities, skills, and backgrounds can achieve the results you want.

1. Pedigree

It's no secret that many organizations place a high value on an executive's educational background or the reputation of the institutions they attended. However, research shows that educational pedigree doesn't necessarily translate to better job performance. In fact, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that while Ivy League graduates do earn higher salaries than graduates of other schools, they don't necessarily perform better in their jobs. The study found that there was no significant difference in job performance between Ivy League and non-Ivy League graduates.

Furthermore, many successful nonprofit leaders do not have a college degree at all. David Merritt is the executive director of the Horizons Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the LGBTQ community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Merritt does not have a college degree, but he has over 25 years of experience in nonprofit leadership and has been recognized for his work in the field.

2. Charisma

Charisma and likability are often seen as important qualities for nonprofit leaders. While it's true that charisma can be helpful in certain situations, it's not a guarantee of success in the role. In fact, a study by the University of Cambridge found that there is no relationship between charisma and effective leadership. The study found that while charismatic leaders may be more likable and persuasive, they aren't necessarily better at making sound decisions or achieving results.

Jeff Skoll is a businessman and philanthropist who co-founded eBay and has since gone on to establish the Skoll Foundation, which supports social entrepreneurs and innovators around the world. Skoll is not known for his charisma, but instead for his analytical and data-driven approach to problem-solving, which has helped him to identify and address some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges of our time.

3. Extroversion

Many people believe that extroverted individuals make better leaders because they are better communicators and networkers. However, research suggests that introverted leaders can be just as successful and effective as extroverted ones, if not more so. A study by Harvard Business Review found that while extroverted leaders may be better at inspiring and motivating their teams, introverted leaders are often better listeners and more receptive to feedback. This can lead to better decision-making and a more collaborative work environment.

There are many successful introverted leaders in the nonprofit sector. For example, Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," is also the co-founder of Quiet Revolution, a company that helps businesses and individuals harness the power of introverts.

In conclusion, while certain qualities like pedigree, charisma, and extroversion may be seen as important when searching for a nonprofit executive, they don't necessarily have a direct impact on job performance. It is important to clearly know what you want your new leader to achieve in the organization, and then be open to all the different skills and backgrounds that may be able to create those results.

Do you want access to more top-tier leadership talent?

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to create a process to really find the best person for your organization’s upcoming leadership position, please reach out to me at We will schedule a free 15-minute consult about how we can help you maximize your impact through strategic hiring.

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