Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Botelho and Powell, The CEO Next Door

What are the four behaviors that transform ordinary people into world-class leaders? This is the question that Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell ask and answer in The CEO Next Door (Currency / Crown Publishing, 2018). From a database of more than 17,000 CEOs and C-suite executives, they analyzed over 2,600 leaders. They coupled this analysis with 13,000 hours of interviews and two decades of experience advising CEOs and executive boards to distill the common attributes of successful CEOs.

The CEO Next Door is divided into three sections. The first hundred pages deal with the book’s leading question. Then come 60 pages on how to get a CEO job and 80 pages on navigating the challenges of the role. Here I’ll touch on only the first section, titled “Get Strong: Master the CEO Genome Behaviors.”

Those who reach the top are decisive, opting for speed over precision. They engage for impact, understanding exactly who their stakeholders are and what they want. They exhibit relentless reliability, delivering consistently. And they adapt boldly, riding the discomfort of the unknown. These behaviors, it is important to stress, are not inborn traits but habits shaped by practice and experience.

Decisive CEOs, the authors not unexpectedly found in their study, were twelve times more likely to be high performers. So, what are the keys to being an effective decision maker? Three things stand out: making decisions faster, making fewer decisions, and putting in place practices to get better at decision making.

I’ll skip the next two behaviors to get to the fourth, adapting boldly. “The best leaders,” the authors tell us, “thrive in a condition of relentless discomfort, adapting their organizations and themselves. These CEOs chart new paths before they have to, not when there’s no other choice. … They take the attitude, If I am not uncomfortable, then I am probably not learning or changing fast enough.”

Adaptive CEOs are willing to let go of approaches that have worked before. Otherwise, their companies may end up like Kodak, where in 1975 a young engineer developed a digital camera but the company did nothing with it, or Blockbuster, which had three chances to buy Netflix.

The authors illustrate their points with stories about and interviews with CEOs.