If you ask ten successful CEOs what they do, you’ll probably hear many answers–all good, but vastly different from executive to executive. A dream team of McKinsey partners decided to research this very question based on 200 in-depth interviews and surveys with successful CEOs. Their findings are found in the new book, CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest. The book is practical, inspiring, and refreshingly insightful.
Who is Carolyn Dewar?
Carolyn Dewar is a senior partner at McKinsey and founded and coleads their CEO excellence work where she coaches many of the Fortune 100 CEOs.
She’s the co-author of the New York Times bestseller CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest.
Carolyn has written numerous articles including two of the most read in the McKinsey Quarterly:
- The dream team authors
- The article that served as the book’s springboard
- Private company CEO applicability
- The six responsibilities
- S-curves and milestones
- Cultivating a noble purpose
- Roles vs who
- Increasing effective teamwork
- Board engagement
- The need for a compelling why
- The reason Drucker would love this book
- The greatest CEO story on humility
- The kitchen cabinet
To promote ever-increasing levels of teamwork, the best CEOs tend to four areas that most managers leave to others. First, they ensure that their team’s time is focused on the work that only it can do together. Second, they’re serious about the top team being every team member’s first team. Next, in top-level decision-making they stay in the triangle formed by data, dialogue, and speed. Finally, they invest regularly in team building, often using a facilitator or team coach to enable more rapid progress.CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest
The Six Key Responsibilities in CEO Excellence
- Setting direction
- Aligning the organization
- Mobilizing through leaders
- Engaging the board
- Connecting with stakeholders
- Managing personal effectiveness
After reading the book, revisit the list and answer the following questions:
- Which responsibility do you think is the easiest for the CEO to perform?
- Which is the hardest?
- What do you believe is the most understood?
- Which item above is taken for granted the most?
- Which responsibility do most non-CEOs say, “Please focus on this more.”
- Of the six responsibilities, which has the greatest gap or variance between the best CEOs and those who are lagging? The answer might surprise you, and it’s in the book.
Sobering CEO Facts
According to Carolyn Dewar, being CEO is a lonely job, and I’m sure all of us can agree with that. The following facts accentuate why this research in CEO Excellence is needed:
- 2 out of 5 CEOs fail in their first 18 months on the job
- Two-thirds of CEOs are struggling according to Steve Tappin (The Secrets of CEOs)
- Moving from being an average performer to a top-quintile performer over a 10-year period is 1 in 12
- Only 1 in 3 strategies is successfully implemented
You have to fix both sides as the CEO: The easy part is technical; the difficult part is people. You might fix the technical issues: finding capital, liquidity, profitability, and so forth. But over time if you can’t solve the mindset issues, you’ll go back on the same route because the mindset is going to drive you again over a cliff.An Andrew Carnegie quote referenced in CEO Excellence
Bookmark Nuggets in CEO Excellence
This is a book I’ll be resisting on a regular basis. Below are some of my favorite gems in this book:
- S-curves and managing my milestones
- Compelling stories (the discussion on killing cash mentioned by one of the CEOs was inspiring)
- DC – Decency Quotient
- The analogy of the 3-foot bend
- Helix vs Matrix
- Constructive tension
- Roles vs finding the right people and which comes first
- The analogy of left tackles
- The mindset of mobilizing leaders
- The reason the Dream Team lost their first game
- The behavioral charter
- DACI – driver, approver, accountability, contributor
- Business reviews vs financial reviews
- The board’s role with the managers of CEOs
- The history of boards and the middle ages feudal system was outstanding
- The story of the $10 million check
- The five sources of purpose (excellent)
- Dancing vs a view from the balcony
- The chapter on personal effectiveness was my favorite – consider buying Journey to the East which is mentioned in this chapter
- The kitchen cabinet
- The Brad Smith 40-30-20-10 rule
- Anamnesis explained
Why CFOs Should Study the Work of CEOs
I have a new book coming out this summer, and it’s called Becoming a Part-Time CFO. In that book, I define my image of a successful and effective Chief Financial Officer:
A CFO with strong financial capabilities has the ability to become his or her company’s CEO for one full year without any degradation of sales, cash flow, the culture, or the value of the company. In most cases, those numbers will increase. At the end of one year, they are ready go back to being a CFO because that’s what they love doing.Mark Gandy
A CFO’s business and culture acumen are as high as any CEO’s. And that’s why every CFO should study books such as these, CEO Excellence. The title of this book could easily be CFO Excellence as this book applies to financial leaders too.
After reading this book, there are six CEOs I recommend you study as you continue this path of executive excellence:
- Bill McDermott – Winner’s Dream
- Alan Mulally – American Icon
- The dichotomous relationships of William Durant and Alfred Sloan – Billy, Alfred, and General Motors
- Joe Coulombe – Becoming Trader Joe
- Hunter Harrison – Railroader
- Ed Stack – It’s How We Play the Game
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