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The CEO Test: Master the Challenges That Make or Break All Leaders

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"Are you ready to lead? Will you pass the test? Despite all the effort through the years to understand what it takes to be an effective leader, the challenges of leadership remain enormously difficult and elusive; even today, most CEOs don't last five years in the job. The demands to deliver at a consistently high level can be unforgiving. The loneliness. The weight of responsibility. The relentless second-guessing and criticism. The pressure to build all-star teams. The 24/7 schedule that requires superhuman stamina. The tough decisions that often leave no one happy. The expectation to always have the right answer when it can be hard just to know the right question. These challenges are brought into their highest and sharpest relief in the corner office, but they are hardly unique to chief executives. All leaders face their own version of these tests, and the authors drawing on the distilled wisdom, stories and lessons from hundreds of chief executives to show how every aspiring leader can master these challenges and lead like a CEO. These foundational leadership skills will make all aspiring executives more effective in their role today, and to lift the trajectory of their career. The CEO Test is the authoritative, no-nonsense insider's guide to navigating leadership's toughest challenges, brought to you by authors uniquely qualified to tell the stories. Adam Bryant has conducted in-depth interviews with more than 600 CEOs. Kevin Sharer spent more than two decades as president and then CEO of Amgen, where he led its expansion from $1 billion in annual revenues to nearly $16 billion. He has served on many boards and is a sought-after mentor for CEOs of global companies. Leadership is getting harder as the speed of disruption across all industries accelerates. The CEO Test will better prepare you to succeed whether you're a CEO or just setting out to become one"--

224 pages, Hardcover

First published March 2, 2021

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About the author

Adam Bryant

21 books20 followers
Adam Bryant, the deputy national editor of The New York Times, has been a journalist for more than two decades. He was a business reporter for The New York Times during the 1990s, covering a variety of industries and topics, including airlines, aviation safety, executive compensation and corporate governance. He joined Newsweek in 1999 as a senior writer, and was promoted to business editor. After six years at Newsweek, he returned to the Times' as an editor in the business section, where he oversaw coverage of the collapse of the Detroit auto industry, among other stories.

Adam was the lead editor for two prize-winning series: "Driven to Distraction," about the dangers of cellphone use behind the wheel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2010, and "Toxic Waters," about water pollution, which won a number of awards, including the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors' Medal, the National Academies' reporting award, the investigative reporting award from the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the 2009 Science in Society Journalism Award.

In March 2009, Adam started Corner Office in the Times' Sunday Business section, and it quickly attracted a large and loyal audience for its insights about leadership and management from prominent leaders. For his book, The Corner Office, Adam studied the transcripts from more than 70 interviews, and looked for patterns, broader themes and lessons. He wove together their candid and wise insights into a book that offers timeless advice on how to succeed, manage and lead.

Adam lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife and two daughters.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews
Profile Image for Karen ⊰✿.
1,391 reviews
April 24, 2021
The premise of this book is that by understanding how CEOs manage challenges, we can all be effective leaders no matter our role.
Each chapter runs through a different test that CEOs face. Starting with writing strategic plans, building workplace culture and teams, transformation, listening, handling a crisis and managing the challenges of being a leader.
Many case studies and excerpts of interviews with CEOs are used throughout and although there are a zillion leadership books available, I find there is always value in learning what others have done and why.
As a HR consultant I got most value at of the first part of the book in terms of case studies I can further research and use with clients, but I think this is a short and useful book for any current or aspiring leader.

Thanks to the publisher Harvard Business Review Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

#TheCEOTest #NetGalley
7 reviews8 followers
January 18, 2022
Brilliant! Full of important lessons, taken from interviews and discussions with CEO’s that were on the field and have “suffered” themselves from mistakes and issues that they now try to clarify and provide relevant feedback.
Profile Image for Omar El-mohri.
288 reviews13 followers
November 5, 2021
The book is very insightful with very good real life examples of recent situations, some to follow others to avoid. But in general the book is about a framework of guidance rather than what to do guide which is the way it should be.
Profile Image for Yasser Maniram.
477 reviews
April 28, 2021
Fairly recent advice which covers the Covid-19 pandemic and its challenges. With that said, the advice is fairly generic to similar guidance books ie. listen to others, don't try and be everyone's friend etc. Worth a read nonetheless.
Profile Image for Jennifer Rumack.
228 reviews10 followers
May 4, 2021
I have a great deal of respect for the authors of this book. I found the content to be fairly basic and focused on chapters centered around culture and change. I enjoyed the practical tips on those challenges in particular.
March 18, 2023
What are the Dilemmas of the first time managers

How Demanding should you be ?

When do you let go ?

When do you step-in to do the work ?

How do you provide the direct feedback without being too critical ?

How do you strike the balance of being friendly without trying to be just one of the gang ?

What are the right moments to show vulnerability ?

Is it always better to put up a front a never-let-them-see-you-sweat confidence ?

So, These are the problems faced by a new manager who leads the front line employees who directly design, create , update a company’s products.

If you are at a senior position then you face different problems. Now you are leading leaders. There are layers of managers below you who all have to be aligned around shared goals. you have to build and manage new networks of relationships across the organization. you are expected to deliver at a consistently high level. the sheer volume of meetings, emails, and cross - department project deadlines become a test of endurance.

A CEO has a different set of challenges. This book shares stories, insights and lessons from dozens of chief executives. It also talks about challenges, paradoxes that are foundational to effective leadership.The book talks about seven tests that each CEO goes through and that will define and refine his leadership. So, What are The Tests that the book is talking about ?

Test #1 Can you develop a simple plan for your strategy ?
Can you bring a simple plan, with the help of your team, to solve a complex problem ? A plan that your employees can hold in their head. Creating a simple plan is like setting the trajectory of a rocket launch. If you are a few degrees off, over time you will miss your mark by a long shot.

What should you do to build a simple plan ?
-- Focus on outcome rather than priorities. Outcomes should be measurable.
-- Edit your vision Ruthlessly. Can you create a vision that the front line employee can understand and implement it in his daily work ?
-- As your audience gets bigger and bigger, your message must get simpler and simpler.
-- Communicate : There is no such thing as overcommunication. All Hands, email blasts , web casts. All these approaches are necessary to fight the collective short attention span in organizations.

Build the habit inside your company of simplifying complexity and designing a simple plan to ensure everyone is aligned around a clear goal and have the levers to achieve it, identify the challenges that stay in your way and a scoreboard for measuring progress.

Test #2 - Can you make the culture real - and matter as well
In Any Organization, Culture is almost like religion. Defining, Modeling, Enforcing and Assessing a company culture is the responsibility of a CEO and senior leaders. Without a strong, positive culture, you stand to drive employees away and miss out on the best talent. Team engagement and productivity are other casualties.

Test #3 - Can you build a team that are true teams ?
Can you define the Purpose of the team ?
Who should be on your team ?
How will the team work together ?
What is the leader’s role on the team ?
You need to answer all these questions.

Test #4 Can you lead transformation ?
The status quo is enormously powerful, and the enemy of the change. How will you lead the transformations you need to think about it .

Test #5 Can you really Listen ?
Can you sense the danger signals ? Danger signals can be faint, and remember bad news travels slowly. So be careful.

Test #6 Can you handle a crisis ?

Test #7 Can you master the inner game of Leadership ?

All other previous tests focus on what an effective leader must do but this test focuses on what an effective leader must be.

First find who you are and then Find the balance between being yourself , compassionate and holding people accountable.

The field of leadership is full of contradictions. If you ask for advice, one will say “Lead from front” and another one will say “Lead from behind” , “ Never Let them see your sweat” to “ You should be vulnerable” , “Take you decisions fast” to “ have patience” . The key is to remember that one size doesn’t fit all.

If you have taken up the challenge of becoming an effective leader then be prepared for many long and steep learning curves that are discussed in this book like - Learning how to write and communicate a simple plan, Build culture and high performing teams , drive change, create systems for listening, and manage crisis. Authors say that these tests the critical reasons why leaders succeed or fail in their roles.

Though I am a front line manager and a confused one also. But after reading this book I realised I need to find out my own way to deal with the paradoxes that I face at work, This book makes it clear that in leadership there is no solution to a problem in balck and whilte everything is in grey shade and as a leader you need to be prepared to experiment with solutions and find the right combination for you and your team.

Remember, No One can succeed without a clear strategy, an effective leadership team, and a well defined culture.

I loved this book.
4 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2021
A good leadership book

Adam Bryant did a good job. Precise leadership tips. Though it’s titled ‘CEO’ but it’s for any leader or aspiring
110 reviews52 followers
October 23, 2022
A no-frills book on how to lead/ manage/ operate and thus set oneself up for success.
As the authors suggested at the end of the book, the title is a misnomer ; this book is applicable to all, irrespective of whether they belong to the C-suite or not.
7 CEO tests and 7 paradoxes:
Test #1
Can You Develop a Simple Plan for Your Strategy?
Simplifying complexity is a leader’s superpower.
Test #2
Can You Make the Culture Real—and Matter?
It’s about walking the talk.
Test #3
Can You Build Teams That Are True Teams?
They are the key to driving the strategy.
Test #4
Can You Lead Transformation?
The status quo is enormously powerful, and it is the enemy of change.
Test #5
Can You Really Listen?
Danger signals can be faint, and bad news travels slowly.
Test #6
Can You Handle a Crisis?
Avoid the predictable mistakes that trip up so many leaders.
Test #7
Can You Master the Inner Game of Leadership?
The conflicting demands and challenges must be managed.

Be Confident and Humble

Be Urgent and Patient

Be Compassionate and Demanding

Be Optimistic and Realistic
Read the weather and set the weather

Create Freedom and Structure
Acknowledge the pressure
Keep your ego in check
Focus on a few achievable goals
Try to make yourself dispensable
Recharge yourself

Authors' background
ADAM BRYANT is managing director of Merryck & Co., a senior leadership
development and executive mentoring firm. A veteran journalist, Adam spent
eighteen years at the New York Times as a reporter and editor, and has conducted
in-depth interviews with more than six hundred CEOs and other leaders, starting
with the weekly Corner Office interview series that he created for the Times in
KEVIN SHARER is the former president, CEO, and chairman of Amgen, the
world’s largest biotechnology company, and led the company’s expansion over
two decades from $1 billion to nearly $16 billion in annual revenue. After
stepping down from Amgen in 2012, he taught strategy and management at
Harvard Business School for seven years and cocreated with his then faculty
colleague and current CEO of G.E., Larry Culp, and Nitin Nohria, the Harvard
Business School dean, a popular course on the life and role of the CEO and how
to lead senior executive teams.

April 8, 2021
This is the best ever book that a management student can ever come through. This book contains all the challenges faced, with pointers and tips in terms of what good looks like, and pitfalls to avoid.
Even being a comparatively short book than other business books, the writer have clearly and concisely explained the major insights of corporate world and also have given advices for the readers.
Also the author have also include case studies and examples from their own experiences, which inspired me a lot.
So, I highly recommend this book to all the upcoming or existing managers out there.
Profile Image for Alvin Soh.
106 reviews
October 30, 2021
Love the way the books is written and structured. It’s clear, easy to follow, and I feel that the author knows what he’s is saying. Key questions posted by the books for leaders:

1. Can you develop a simple plan for your strategy?
2. Can you make the culture real- and matter?
3. Can you build teams that are true teams?
4. Can you lead Transformation?
5. Can you really listen?
6. Can you handle a crisis?
7. Can you master the inner game of leadership?

Lots of gems across the whole book. Enjoyed it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Darya.
525 reviews10 followers
May 23, 2021
One of the best books on practical leadership in this lonely space that I have read. Each page was just an insight of what's happening in a life and in a head of a company leader. Absolutely recommend to read for anyone who is or looking to become a CEO / company leader. There are many of inspiring stories and those to learn from and advice that is so much needed in daily situations.
45 reviews
May 29, 2021
Generic book on leadership. I was hoping for more anecdotal experiences from Kevin Sharer's tenure at Amgen. Instead, there are a lot of quotes on topics organized into several themes. I am hopeful that Mr. Sharer or another former executive (Merck's Ken Frazier perhaps) will write a book on leadership and decision-making in the Biopharma industry.
Profile Image for Jamie.
90 reviews
October 18, 2022
I really appreciate the amount of compiled interviews and how they narrowed down all of the input concisely into seven tests. I think they nailed it - all seven points are crucial to being an effective leader in today's world. Thank you for sharing these insights; now time to put in some work towards becoming a more balanced and impactful leader!
4 reviews
January 29, 2022
One of the best books on leadership ever

This is an excellent book on leadership. I’ve read a lot of them.

Clear, concise, actionable. I really appreciate how the book was structured. Couldn’t put it down and I think I highlighted about 25% of it.
26 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2022
Not to be confused with plenty of other books that are about building a better business, this is about becoming a better leader. A great examination of the role of a leader with some very enlightening case studies expressing what you need to be ready for and doing if in this position.
Profile Image for Michael.
20 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2022
I liked the book but reading Chapter 2 was the proverbial “nails on chalk board” experience. It was complete virtue signaling and unnecessary. It seemed so forced and unnatural. Hire quality individuals. That’s all that matters.
Profile Image for Ashutosh.
30 reviews
January 30, 2023
experience speaks.. thought provoking

The depth of experience of both the authors shows in the simple, practical advice that always requires thoughtful and deliberate execution. Definitely practical and useful and thought provoking at the same time
1,304 reviews32 followers
May 18, 2021
This book is good for anyone who is interested in business. I was impressed with that the Author covered so many issues that a CEO may face.
Profile Image for Book Reader.
330 reviews
March 5, 2021
The demands on leaders are increasing these days. A century ago it was enough for organizations to provide salaries in exchange for labor. After few decades, leaders are expected to provide safe working environment. As time goes by, the expectations grow of leaders as they should care about not just the business but also the emotional well being of the employees. Today the leadership challenge is still fluid, making the job of the leaders more challenging and exciting.

This book provides the test on what it means and how to be successful leaders in the rapidly changing environment. Drawn from the insights of more than 600 CEOs and personal experiences of the author, the lessons in this book will help anyone not just CEOs to create the environment where success will thrive.
139 reviews
March 13, 2023
Concise chapters for each of the tests, and with clear examples to broaden your perspective on how to tackle certain situations or challenges: writing strategic plans, building workplace culture and teams, transformation, listening, handling a crisis and managing the challenges of being a leader.
Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews

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