Because compensation for chief executive officers has grown by over 1,000 percent in the last three decades, research dedicated to the profile of these CEOs has proliferated. Because the U.S. church — for good or ill — tends to take its leadership cues from the business community, this research may provide clues to the kind of people we are picking to lead us.
First, he — and it is overwhelmingly “he” — tends to look unusually competent, even if he isn’t. The business community has powerfully formative, if unconscious, pre-commitments as to what a leader looks like. First, the obvious: the CEO is a man. There are more S&P1500 companies led by guys named John than there are companies led by women. Let that sink in. Women who would lead such companies need not only to lean In; they need revolutionary breakthrough.
This male CEO, according to Harvard writer Alyza Sebenius, will have a deep bass voice. He will sign with an unusually large signature. Statistically, he plays golf — and is good at it. Interestingly, while a good golf game correlates to higher CEO compensation, higher skills are negatively correlated with stock returns.
The more powerful the CEO, the more well-connected and recognized he is. However, when a CEO wins a prestigious award, a company’s stock price tends to drop in the years that follow. The same thing is true of CEOs who are paid higher than the mean for their industry. Studies have connected top-of-the-ladder CEO pay with leader overconfidence and risky strategic decisions. The more the CEO is paid in company stock options, the more likely the company will experience product recalls and shareholder lawsuits. Married CEOs tend to take fewer leadership risks than single CEOs, and the stock prices of their companies tend to be more stable. And not surprisingly, all CEOs behave better morally and altruistically when the media is paying attention.
None of this is shocking information. But it may give us the church pause as to how intentionally or unconsciously we take our cues from the business community as to what an effective leader looks like. Are we, for instance, forming our opinions about how to call a pastor for a church based on these cultural preferences? Are we pre-committed to a certain type of leader in such a way that we become blind to other sorts of leaders?
In 2008, Baptist Women in Ministry celebrated their 25th anniversary by passing out t-shirts that read, “This is what a preacher looks like.” It was followed by a book of the same title with sermons in three dozen female voices. Yet almost a decade later, I still hear Baptist congregations rule out high-quality female candidates for open pastorates, not on biblical or theological grounds, but simply because search committees can’t imagine a leader outside the framework of a tall married guy named John, with a deep voice and a good golf game, who isn’t afraid to ”shake things up.”