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This trait a 'kiss of death' for CEOs: Headhunter

Corner office trends changing fast: Pro
Corner office trends changing fast: Pro

The days of autocratic CEOs are fading, in favor of new, dynamic "servant" leaders who can navigate multistakeholder environments, said George Davis, leader of the global CEO practice at executive search and talent management consultancy Egon Zehnder.

Nowadays, "hubris" is the "kiss of death" for chief executive candidates, Davis told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday. A leader with excessive pride and self-confidence is a "dinosaur" of the 1970s old boys club, "the golf course days," as Davis calls them. "I've probably logged nine holes in three years," he added.

Davis said vetting a CEO hopeful today involves a thorough review, including extensive interviews with the candidate and their former co-workers. "We look at potential. There are indicators and markers of potential: communication, innovation [and] financial savvy," he explained, saying he asks a candidate to describe their "best accomplishment" and how they achieved it. Davis said answers starting with "I did this" and "I did that" are a "real red flag."

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"The real new CEO is going to be the one who can communicate and relate to the people, who puts the goals first," Davis said, citing the recently installed CEO of McDonald's, Steve Easterbrook, who's been getting a lot of credit for his execution of a turnaround at the fast food giant, including all-day breakfast. "It's not about him. You don't see commercials about him on the front."

In the ever-changing digital environment, flat economy, activist investors and largely millennial workforce, innovation is also key, Davis said. "Boards [and] shareholders used to be scared of risk of innovation," he said. "It's now a demand to be enabled, to be fast thinking."