The secret to Mona Lisa’s smile is about proportions.
Only Leonardo da Vinci could have achieved (if asked) the same effect on a smaller or a larger scale. Quality – in this case proportion – is always superior to quantity.
When choosing CEOs, there is a false problem that is often being addressed the wrong way. It sounds like this:
If a CEO has managed to achieve certain KPIs at $100M sales in a given industry, can he achieve the same KPIs at a company making $2B in sales in the same industry? Many executive search consultants could testify that their clients respond to this dilemma in the negative: they demand candidates who have achieved the KPIs at the desired scale. This approach is pragmatic and seemingly safe. However, these pragmatist miss the point: they demand to see a different Leonardo da Vinci for each given scale. In fact, they are happy to compromise – even if unwillingly – on the magic of the smile for the size of the frame. Life always proves this approach to be wrong, often quite drastically.
Why is the problem false?
Because it doesn’t address other qualitative factors related to culture and authenticity. All CEOs achieve KPIs mostly due to factors outside of their control. The KPIs are no indicators of CEOs’ (or other managers’) innate abilities at all. (Many chronic liars, sociopaths and ill willed or “morally flexible” bureaucrats who should never be trusted with people’s lives do achieve KPIs.) There are many fake artists who build careers on successfully selling their own narrative on events that just happened to them: they have no sense for quality (or honor for that matter).
Sustainable businesses need quality people who understand the secondary role of quantity.