Can you pick a CEO out of a lineup of wannabes? Can you name five qualities essential to getting "Chief Executive" engraved on your business card?
We can't, either. And there's a reason for that. The chief exec of 2004 isn't the same breed - maybe not even the same species - as the leaders anointed 15 years ago.
"Today's CEOs are very different," says John Christensen, coauthor of the bestselling management tome FISH!. "It's a new day for leaders," agrees Rick Junius, executive vice president at career services company Lee Hecht Harrison.
Then there's David Nosal, head of the CEO practice for Korn Ferry International. For 20 years, Nosal has filled CEO slots - he doesn't name names, but his clients are megacorporations at home on the Fortune 500 - and he agrees today's CEOs are a new class. Not so long ago, top executives were almost always alpha males, hard-chargers, corporate warriors. Now they're team-builders, empathetic listeners, peacemakers.
What happened was an intersection of happenstance and societal shifts. Top jobs fell open at GE, Ford, HP, Lucent, Home Depot, and Time Warner - just to name a few. Meanwhile, the new century brought a new zeitgeist, and executives were caught flat-footed.
"The world has changed dramatically in the past five years," Nosal says, citing a host of shifts - globalization, offshoring, downsizing, renewed stress on business ethics, and on down the list of business revolutions. If yesterday's CEOs and CEO candidates had been prepared, they might still be polishing their brass nameplates. But the fact is, they read the handwriting on the wall too late to keep their companies on the leading edge. Their boards demanded new leaders who could cope.