27) The CEO Next Door by Elena Botelho and Kim Powell
For those of you who actually read this blog regularly, you will have become accustomed to a mix of literary fiction, crime, thrillers and non-fiction books on a range of topics. The latter have tended recently to be fairly wide-ranging: from the opioid crisis in the US (the amazing Dopesick) to the end of civilisation as we know it (How Democracy Ends). This book by contrast, is squarely a book that I’ve been reading for work: I’ve been the CEO at a charity for about 16 months now, and it felt like a good time to dip back into some reading about leadership and business.
I first learned about this book on the Harvard Business Review podcast (sorry, ‘ideacast’) which is normally full of slightly irritating people who have found a way of packaging up the bleeding obvious and have written a book to sell it to people who want to feel good about the fact they recognise the bleeding obvious. But the podcast episode with the two authors of this book stood out because they had little ego, it was very practical, and they brought new insights based on data & experience.
This book does the same – basically, they have both worked (through their consultancy) with thousands of CEOs, and they have used that data to generate a bunch of findings. In the book, this falls into three main sections: what makes a good CEO, how to become a CEO, and how to avoid the key challenges once you’re there. It does have some of the standard business book flim-flam, and stuff that normally irritates me (cover quotes from leaders who are featured etc); and lots of the examples certainly seem a bit far from my world ($bns) – nevertheless, quite a bit stuck with me this time.
The ‘what makes a good CEO’ is basically broken down into 4 behaviours – relentless reliability, quick decision-making, stakeholder engagement, ability to adapt. Some of this substantiates fairly bog-standard leadership stuff (engaging stakeholders – yes, thanks) or business book-land (adapt, disrupt, fail, be lean! Etc). But it’s not often you hear that swiftness of decision-making (and gradually making fewer decisions) is key, nor do you get the strong emphasis on reliability – a ‘boring’ feature, but one that is the main behaviour of successful CEOs, according to their data. [it did remind me of reading Andy Radcliffe’s column on ‘boring CEOs‘ which I enjoyed; and now our two organisations are working together…]
Reliability is also the main thing that boards are looking for at interview, apparently. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I thought it was interesting given the emphasis you hear on disruption, vision, inspiration and so forth. I didn’t dwell too long on the ‘how do you become a CEO’ chapters but I recommend them for anyone going for an interview anytime soon.
The most interesting section was the last one, which is all about the key challenges (or main pitfalls) that CEOs or leaders face. There’s some useful things here: advice on building a leadership team; advice on percentages of time to be spent on different activities; advice on what constitutes the ‘shift’ from previous roles – and an entire section on working with a board (with the slightly odd title ‘Dancing with the Titans’!). Lots of page corners folded down here – which is the true sign for this DogearedMan whether there’s something worth reading, learning and coming back to.
Score: For those interested in business and leadership, this gets a 7.5/10
For the rest of you….maybe try the rest of the blog!