Useful advice in preparing for the top job

There were some surprises when the CEOs of major corporations indicated the areas in which they wish they had been better prepared when taking on the CEO role, according to Leslie Braksick and Jamels Hillgren in their book Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew. They all felt well-prepared to face the difficult strategic issues of challenging business environments; what caught them unprepared were issues like dealing with a board, governance, and personal isolation.

The book describes the outcome of interviews of 27 CEOs of very large corporations, conducted at the request of William Johnson, CEO of Heinz, in an attempt to find better ways of preparing CEOs for their roles. Each respondent was asked a range of questions relating to his or her experience in taking on the role of CEO and what a successor would need to know if being mentored. The responses were collated into a number of categories, and these are presented together with the comments of the authors.

Things identified as being most helpful in preparing well for the job included:

  • International experience
  • Board exposure and experience
  • Experience in running a business
  • Mentoring from a boss or coach
  • Functional experience or business rotations
  • Use of leadership development resources and experiences

Many of the respondents’ comments are repeated in multiple chapters because of their relevance to multiple topics, and this detracts slightly from the readability of the book. The book is more a report of research findings than a comprehensive manual for training prospective CEOs. Nonetheless, it contains many insights that will be useful to any senior business leader. The interview subjects were all CEOs of very large corporations, but nearly all of the insights will be equally relevant to leaders of mid-sized enterprises.

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