Does CEO stand for the “C” Entitled Executive?

Society is conditioned to think “A” students are inborn and bred to become CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, but that is false.

In “Talent is Never Enough”, leadership researcher and guru, John C. Maxwell, states “that more than 50% of all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had a C or C- average in college and more than 50% of all millionaire entrepreneurs never finished college.” So why are most CEO’s “C” students? Does CEO stand for the “C” Entitled Officer?

The “C” student has a comparative advantage in CEO leadership because throughout secondary school he develops risk tolerance and networking skills at a lower cost than the “A” student. This is not to say that “A” students cannot lead and do not become CEOs. On the contrary, “A” students do not only succeed academically there is usually a pattern of high achievement throughout their entire life, from social to athletic, and professional to political. They have an absolute advantage in talent across numerous activities.

However, this is why a “C” student who seems unskilled academically can develop a comparative advantage in business leadership. While the “A” student may be the absolute best at everything in the class, the “A” student cannot develop risk tolerance and the soft skills of executive leadership as cheaply as the “C” student. If the “A” student takes time out from studying to get an “A”, he bears a significant risk that will negate his competitiveness in the selection process for the top college and high paying job. If the “C” student takes time out from studying, the “C” student gives up very little, because hypothetically speaking he would not have been able to get into “Harvard” anyway. Thus, the “C” student becomes a specialist at learning how to cope with setbacks and failure to meet expectations and he develops self-correcting strategies for subsequent homework. He nurtures his empathy skills with the common student by sitting in the back of the class and learns to organize from the bottom up into study groups. All these tests of perseverance provide great training for the taxing demands of the title, CEO, which is not simply a cookie-cutter list of structured assignments within a defined grading system. Maximum production of both the “A” and “C” student becomes one where the “A” student gets hired by the C student to get the job done well (i.e. get the “A”) for the company he created and built.

Finally, consider the distribution of grades typically in class. Grades are normally distributed with most people falling in the “C” range, i.e. the mean, and less students receiving “A”s or “F”s. Predictably, most students have and will receive “C”s. In some instances, “C” students may join the labor force before the “A” student, increasing their numbers and giving them direct experience of day-to-day operations of a business and what it takes to be successful. Therefore, since most people in the world are C-students, there is a greater probability in that pool of candidates, to find a Fortune 500 CEO.

The next time you get a C, think opportunity, think leverage. Think you may be the next CEO.  It’s your right.