Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer deliver a game-changing guidebook sure to set any professional on the path to successful leadership both in their organizations and beyond.
In The CEO Test, Bryant provides insight from his experience managing a senior leadership development and executive mentoring firm, combining that with thirty years of journalism to give us this information in a compelling and digestible manner. He’s joined with Sharer, the former Chairman, and CEO of biotechnology Amgen and Harvard Business School lecturer.
Together, two of the brightest minds in organizational leadership take the reader on a journey through the top executive minds on subjects such as workplace culture, building teams, and change leadership.
Challenging business beliefs
The business world tends to hold company CEO’s in a position to mostly unattainable standards. Treating their subjects as individuals rather than a collective group, this book breaks from conventional one-size-fits-all advice to personalize the reader’s experience.
Both authors recognize that context is everything, and experience, capabilities, and personality will mean different styles work best for differing leaders. In this way, there’s something for every type of leader across each organization’s level, including those aspiring leaders still working in an individual contributor role.
Perhaps the true gift Bryant and Sharer leave their readers is a better sense of what kind of leader they might become. The authors give us the rare opportunity to follow Kevin’s journey through a microscope, both figuratively and literally, as we narrow in on personal experiences and insights. From an engineer on a nuclear submarine to a CEO, the authors tie key learnings from Kevin’s career to this book’s lessons.
At times, lessons are both as humorous as they are critical, such as one chapter that exhibits the practice of encouraging simplicity by highlighting Kevin’s way of using an ‘idiot diagram.’
As someone who finds it challenging to trust much of the insights derived from these business-based guides if there aren’t concrete examples, I especially appreciated these moments, where the author truly dug deep into their own experiences for the reader’s benefit.
The Corporate ladder
When climbing the corporate ladder appears ever the more daunting, when company leadership questions if there is a way to compete on talent, The CEO Test offers a path forward.
Not actionable steps for becoming a leader, or numbered lists we must check off, but by modeling the successful strategies of what came before and adapting them to the ever-evolving world of business.
The questions they force us to reflect on do not shape the examples they give but are shaped by those examples, rooting the book’s most valuable lessons in the real world.
Yet Bryant and Sharer don’t just stop at helping professionals to grow into leaders. They also challenge long-held and damaging beliefs in corporate America.
Unapologetically calling out CEOs obsessed with ‘balance sheets and earning statements’ or even specific individuals such as Uber’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick, they demonstrate with brutal honesty how not to be a CEO. I was encouraged to see the book taking principled stances as other financial guides often don’t.
Along those lines, Sharer’s ability to reach into his experiences and become self-critical—a development later in the book—endeared me to his journey more so than when we were learning from his earliest days. Even after achieving the highest levels of success in his industry, we hear how the bad behavior on Sharer’s part fostered new self-awareness and growth.
The motif of continuous learning provided through these critical moments in Bryan and Sharer’s book results in invaluable insight to us as readers. In the end, hearing what not to do from one of the book’s authors further cements its value for anyone in the business world.
My only critique of The CEO Test is that the authors do not explicitly acknowledge diversity in leadership positions.
Although something I did not necessarily expect to happen in the first place, I was admittedly holding out hope. Now, that is not to say that diversity of thought or opinion was not encouraged. A large portion of the book lends itself to listening and trusting in one’s team and employees.
However, the specific problem with diverse backgrounds at the top levels is one that company leaders must reckon with, and the authors had several opportunities to highlight this issue. It would have added an essential perspective as leaders assessed themselves based on their team’s talent.
The bottom line
Ultimately, The CEO Test wins in getting across critical questions we need to ask ourselves not once but every day on the job.
I zipped through this book, even taking notes that I hope to use in the months and years to come.
In short, I would comfortably recommend this book to anyone from business school students to CEOs in the most successful organizations, anyone who desires to embody the qualities of authentic leadership.