The CEO Test: Master the Challenges That Make or Break All Leaders
By Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer
Harvard Business Review Press, 224 pp., $30
Now, more than ever, it is important to consider what being a leader really means. The CEO Test examines seven skills the authors believe are necessary for effective leadership. Passing the test is about proficiency, not mastery. Incompetence is a single skill that can—as the authors warn—"quickly cut short a leader’s time in their chair."
Chapter by chapter, novice and experienced leaders can gain a broader perspective of leadership demands from real-life CEOs. Their stories tell how they learned to lead, failed to lead, and found success. Each chapter concludes with the authors’ advice on how to apply the lessons learned.
The test begins with a look at strategy. The authors ask readers to consider their ability to simplify complexity and to galvanize their team to move in concert toward a common goal. Bryant and Sharer follow strategy with a deep dive into the notion of culture and leaders’ tendency to say one thing and do another.
For leaders to build a true team, the authors recommend creating psychological safety, establishing clear agendas and rules of debate, being mindful to hold inclusive conversations, taking responsibility to coach everyone on the team, being a vigilant talent scout, and grooming a successor. It sounds like a lot of responsibility because it is—the test isn’t going to be easy.
Managing transformation and handling a crisis are challenging to even the most seasoned leaders. The ability to listen is key. Bryant and Sharer bring to light the dilemma of the leadership bubble. By surrounding themselves with only their closest advisors, many leaders may think they are listening closely, yet they are hearing only what others choose to tell them. To be effective, leaders must counter the isolation that the leadership role imposes.
The book concludes with a mental exercise of embracing paradoxes. Leadership is not an either-or. It is being confident and humble, urgent and patient, compassionate and demanding, optimistic and realistic. Above all it is remembering that leadership isn’t about you.