Executive Careers Blog

Color Testing CEOs: Is a Leader Born or Trained?

Aman Singh

There is a test for pretty much anything you want to be tested on these days. From quantitative ones to knowledge-based to personality tests, you name it and a simple Google search reveals its existence.  No wonders then that USA Todayorganized a personality testing of 900 CEOs based around color preferences to see if they are wired differently from the rest of us. Any guesses on that?

Magenta appears to be the unequivocal winner. Weird? Test creator Dewey Sadka believes that the color choice speaks volumes of a typical CEO's mental makeup: "Sensitive, cooperative, and not a perfectionist." The test also revealed that the 900 testers disliked yellow and red, an averseness he attributes to them being "less dominant and confident" than the rest of us. Disclaimer: As I wrote this, I began to get serious doubts about this test and decided to take it for myself. The results it returned about my personality type were spot on.

The point isn't the validity of this test but the fact that its results attempt to question an oft-debated belief: Are we born leaders or can we be trained to become leaders? I was always told the latter when growing up, but as I entered the race to become a responsible working citizen, I realized it might not be true. While all of us might have certain leader-like qualities, not all of us can be trained to be become CEOs—or at least good ones. We need to have a certain mindset, a certain entrepreneurial bend of mind, and an acute perception of being a leader.

Of course, there is the theory that a CEO is made by his executive team and their combined intelligence and business skills. (Read: Leadership Development Programs at leading companies) But take any example (Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs perhaps? Or PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi? Even Apple's Steve Jobs is a great study!) and you will notice a certain trait, a distinctive way of directing, an assumed value of their decisions that all of us don’t necessarily have. There is also the mentoring factor. Many executives reach the top seat because their predecessors groomed them for the task. Does that mean they were trained because of their great work skills and expertise or because they were recognized for having a CEO-like mindset and therefore, mentored into perfecting their business skills?

Krista McMasters, Chief Practice Officer at accounting firm Clifton Gunderson once told me, "It’s critical that you believe and live in the importance of developing people.  I believe your goal as an executive should be to develop those that you supervise to the point where they surpass you in knowledge and skill." Maybe with a great manager, there is the possibility that anyone can be trained to lead—a likeness for magenta or not--but let's be honest, not all our managers are the greatest of mentors. In the absence of one, how does one aspire to the executive suite?

And especially if we hate magenta. Then what?

Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at Fortune 1000 companies.

Comments?  Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com