The Transformative CEO: A book review by Bob Morris

The Transformative CEO: Impact Lessons from Industry Game Changers
Jeffrey J. Fox and Robert Reiss
McGraw-Hill (2012)

How and why leaders transform themselves so that they will be more effective transforming their organizations   

Each year, the average tenure of a new CEO becomes shorter and is about 36 months as I begin this brief commentary. One of several major reasons for this is the fact that change really is – and will continue to be — the only constant in the global business world as it occurs faster and in greater number, requiring business leaders and their organizations to respond faster and with greater effectiveness. In this context, the title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s most valuable books is especially relevant, asserting that “what got you here won’t get you there.” In fact, I’m convinced that what got you here won’t even allow you to remain here (wherever and whatever “here” is). Continuous improvement has become constant improvement and that can only be achieved by organizational transformation. Once again, I am reminded of Pogo the possum’s epiphany: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

All this is by way of introducing material in a book co-authored by Jeffrey Fox and Robert Reiss in which they feature 44 CEOs who share the “impact lessons” they learned while leading initiatives to achieve organizational transformation. These are real executives in real companies who candidly discuss real-world crises, perils, and opportunities. It is accurate to call them game-changers only if it is clearly understood that the “game” was played in their heads and hearts (and yes, guts) as well as in the C-suite, throughout the given enterprise, and within the given industry.

There are 33 brief chapters, focusing on major business challenges, to each of which several CEOs contribute insights and experiences as well as thoughts and feelings, in collaboration with Fox and Reiss. The reference to “impact” earlier includes one’s self, one’s colleagues, and one’s organization. As you can well imagine, the two co-authors and the 44 CEO contributors are able to draw upon a wealth of invaluable experience, especially with crises, setbacks, and even major failures. As most of the book’s chapter titles correctly indicate, their collective focus is on what works, what doesn’t, and why.

For example, Chapters 3-9 explain how to turn a company around, protect or change a company culture, put culture first, hire to the given culture, perform while transforming, serve a higher purpose, and give back in response to deserving need.

In Chapter 11 and then in Chapters 14-15, the reader is provided with information, insights, and wisdom that will help to prepare her or him to take prudent risks, innovate at all kevels and in all areas (to varying degrees of scale), make everything “Better! Better! Better!”, defend ideas and the process by which they are generated, and “lead with love” (i.e. with emotional intelligence that appreciates and protects as well as nourishes human dignity).

It is important to keep in mind what this book’s sources are. First, several dozen CEOs: results-driven empiricists who are world-class pragmatists, each possessing what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as a “built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” Then there are hundreds of other executives that Reiss interviewed for “The CEO Show.” Add to all that what Fox and Reiss have learned from their own wide and deep involvement in the business world during the last several decades.

I highly recommend this book to all C-level executives, whatever the size and nature of their organization may be. Also, to middle managers who aspire to provide effective leadership at that level. Finally, especially at this time of the year, I think this would be a terrific gift to those who are preparing for a career in business or have only recently begun one. Many of those who read it will also be transformed. I hope they realize that transformation should be a process that never ends. The “bad news” is that it can be very difficult to achieve and even more difficult to sustain. As this book so compellingly reveals, the “good news” is that personal transformation and professional growth will accomplish almost anything the human mind can imagine. Helen Keller said it quite well: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

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