The CEO Next Door: A book review by Bob Morris

The CEO Next Door: Based on a Breakthrough Study of Over 2,600 Leaders
Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell
Currency/An imprint of Crown Publishing Group (March 2018)

How and why ordinary people are able to achieve extraordinary results

The best business books are evidence-driven and that is certainly true of this one. The information, insights, and counsel that Elena Botelho and Kim Powell provide in abundance were generated by wide and deep research that involved about 17,000 leaders with 2,600 examined in much greater depth. Also, more than 9,000 executives at all levels of seniority have taken Seniority, a self-assessment on CEO Genome Behaviors and the current total has been increased to 17,000 and counting.

Botelho and Powewll observe, “Every year we assess an additional 250 CEOs who are added to the data set. We are unaware of any other firm that knows as much about what DEOs do, how they got the role, and how they manage the daily grind, sweat, and tears.”

I agree with them: “Under the daily pressures, it’s often hard for any leader to find the time to step back to define the clarifying framework that was talked out in the previous section. Ironically, leaders are often mired in reactive, day-to-day churn exactly because they haven’t stepped back to define the most critical ‘business killer issues that should shape their decision making and screen for what they do and don’t jump into.”

These are among the passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the parameters of coverage in this brilliant book:

o CEO Genome, overview and summary of behaviors (Pages 14-15 and 103-104)
o Decisions (21-40)
o Steve Kaufman (30-31, 55-56, and 58-59)
o Engaging for impact (41-62)
o Relentless reliability (63-83)
o Adopting drills of highly reliable organizations (74-81)
o Adapting boldly (85-102)
o Building antennae for the future (93-100)
o Career Catapults (107-129)
o Stages of CEOs career (109-113)
o How to Stand Out and Become Known (131-151)
o Closing the deal (153-174)
o Hazards at the top (177-206)
o Your team (207-224)
o The Board (225-250)
o High purpose, high performance leaders (252-254)

I also want to call attention to boxed minim-commentaries (as in Sections I and II) that are brief but insightful:

o The Art of Apology (34)
o Being Too “Nice” Can Get You Fired (43-44)
o A Surprising Tool for “Perspective Getting” (57)
o Test Your Ability to Engage for Impact (61)
o The Habits of Highly Reliable Prople (69)
o Scorecard: Simple Reliability Tool (79)
o Beware Cognitive Overload (99)
o DIY Big Leaps (117-118)
o How to Catapult Without Crash Landing (127-128)
o The Self-Interest Torpedo (146)
o Your CEO Interview Talking Points (166)

I commend Botelho and Powell on their skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include uniquely relevant quotations and the aforementioned mini-commentaries as well as bullet point checklists and “Key Takeaways” sections at the conclusion of Chapters 1-11. These devices will facilitate,indeed expedite frequent review of key material later. I also recommend keeping a lined notebook near at hand while reading the book in order to record comments, questions, and page references.

Obviously, not everyone can become a CEO and many of those with sufficient qualifications have no interest in accepting the responsibilities that are involved. On average, the tenure of a CEO in a U.S. company today is about half what it was only 10-12 years ago. Reasons vary. My own opinion is that the business world today is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember.

Botelho and Powell focus on the “Four Genome Behaviors” that separate great leaders from the rest: great leaders are Decisive (they make fewer decisions, make them faster, and “get better every time”); great leaders Engage for Impact (they lead with intent, understand the players, and build relationships through routine); great leaders are Radically and Relentlessly Reliable (they embrace “the thrill of personal consistency,” set bold but realistic expectations, “stand up to be counted on,” and adopt the drills of highly reliable organizations); and finally, great leaders Adapt Boldly (they “ride the discomfort of the unknown,” respect but are not hostage to the past, and “build an antenna for the future”). Great leaders are women and men who hold themselves to very high standards for personal character and professional achievement. Only then can they hold others to the same very high standards.

I agree with Elena Botelho and Kim Powell, “Here’s the key: Becoming a CEO isn’t necessarily about background or good fortune. It’s about performance, about behaviors that most of us can master with hard work, close attention, and techniques [the HOW] we share in this book.” Presumably they agree with me that great leaders are not deities and well aware of that. They master the “Four Genome Behaviors” over time and help others to do so. And they will be the first to point out that they cannot succeed without associates who personify the same behaviors. They recognize and practice the wisdom of an African proverb: “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.”

It is no coincidence that most of the companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. However different these companies may be in most respects, all of them transform ordinary people who can deliver world-class leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Yes, a company has only one CEO but, as St. Paul suggests in First Corinthians, organizations may have many parts but can be one body.


Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.