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The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors That Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders

Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell, consultants at leadership advisory firm ghSMART, overturn the myths about what it takes to get to the top and succeed. These findings are based on the research of The CEO Genome®, an in-depth analysis of ghSMART’s database including a sample of over 2,600 leaders drawn from a data set of 17,000 CEOs and C-suite executive assessments, 13,000 hours of interviews and two decades advising CEOs and executive boards.

Botelho and Powell’s groundbreaking research, the featured cover story in the Harvard Business Reviewreveals the common attributes and counterintui­tive choices that set apart successful CEOs. They draw out lessons that we can apply to our own careers, no matter where we are and where we strive to get to.

Much of what we hear about who gets to the top and how is wrong.

  • Those who be­come chief executives set their sights on the C-suite at an early age. In fact, over 70 per­cent of the CEOs didn’t have designs on the corner office until later in their careers.
  • You must graduate from an elite college. Only 7 percent of CEOs in the data set are Ivy League graduates—and 8 percent didn’t graduate from college at all.
  • To become a CEO you need a flawless résumé. The reality: 45 percent of CEO candidates had at least one major career blowup.

What those who reach the top do share are four key behaviors that anyone can mas­ter:

  • They are decisive
  • They are relentlessly reliable
  • They adapt boldly
  • They engage with stakeholders without shying away from conflict

Culled from a breakthrough study of the most successful people in business and illustrated by real-life stories from CEOs and boardrooms, The CEO Next Door offers career advice for everyone who aspires to get ahead.

Botelho and Powell, utilizing their research insights from ghSMART’s data, tell us how to:

  • fast-track our careers by deploying the career catapults used by those who get to the top quickly
  • overcome the hidden handicaps to getting the job we want
  • avoid the five hazards that most commonly derail those promoted into a new role

For everyone who aspires to accelerate their career trajectory, The CEO Next Door is an essential guide.

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Praise for "The CEO Next Door"

The CEO Next Door is a compelling read not only for the aspiring CEO, but for anyone looking to raise their leadership to a higher level. Using rigorous analysis drawn from thousands of interviews, Elena and Kim have uncovered the behaviors, experiences, and actions that truly differentiate leaders. Their book isn’t leaving my desk as I prepare to step into CEO role.

— Tim Buckley, CEO The Vanguard Group

This book debunks a host of myths about what it takes to become a CEO—and succeed as one. Based on an impressive database of intensive interviews with executives, it turns out that big failures and small egos are among the building blocks of great leadership. You won’t ever look at the corner office in the same way again.

— Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of GIVE AND TAKE, ORIGINALS, and OPTION B with Sheryl Sandberg

This book brings academic rigor and big data analysis to the study of leadership effectiveness. The result is a surprisingly common-sense guide to navigating career challenges — whether you are taking the next step up the corporate ladder or working to create a high-performance culture in the boardroom.

— James C. Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Thomson Reuters

What does it take to succeed at the top of a company? Botelho and Powell offer the answer — and it’s not what you think. Drawing on a remarkable analysis of thousands of current and potential CEOs, they find that the best of the best share some common traits. They may not all come from fancy schools, but they do know how to make smart decisions, adapt to changed circumstances, and work honestly and directly with customers and employees. Whether you’re running a large organization, or simply have your eye on the corner office, this book should be your guide.

— Daniel H. Pink, author of WHEN and DRIVE

The CEO Next Door contributes much needed research and data to a subject long dominated by anecdote and conjecture. If you aspire to be a CEO, if you’re a director on a board charged with developing and selecting the next CEO, if you’re a head of human resources responsible for the thoughtful development of CEO candidates, or if you simply want to reach your full potential professionally – your probability of success will rise substantially once you’ve put these insights into action.

— L. Kevin Cox, Chief Human Resources Officer, American Express Company

Whether you're at the beginning, middle, or later stages of your career, The CEO Next Door, offers practical, actionable advice to not just accelerate your path to the top, but also make you better at every step of the way. it's an indispensable guide for any aspiring professional.

— Laszlo Bock, CEO of Humu, bestselling author of Work Rules!, and former SVP of People at Google

Thoughtful and deliberate succession planning is critical at every organization— large or small. Botelho and Powell provide a compelling and concise roadmap to help identify and develop CEOs and senior executive talent; one that is based on extensive data from 17000 assessments and field tested experiences.

— Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO AT&T

The CEO Next Door is required reading for anyone who aspires to the C-suite and wants to thrive there. The analytics-driven insights in the book uncover traits of effective leaders that anyone can develop.

— Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS

Botelho and Powell have written a first-rate guide for aspiring CEOs as well as for those who have already moved into the top spot. Compelling research and real-life stories provide a practical roadmap to leadership and career success that a reader can apply in any setting.

— Art Collins, Retired chairman & CEO, Medtronic, Inc.

As a former CMO in the private sector and a CEO twice in the nonprofit space, I enjoyed every page of this book. The affirmation of being a CEO is not about background or good fortune but about performance and hard work based on decisiveness, impact, reliability and adapting boldly which sets the stage for any future or current CEO. A must read for all those leaders who care deeply about leading well.

— Vicki Escarra, former CMO of Delta Air Lines and CEO of Feeding America and Opportunity International

A must read for anyone serious about career success. Botelho and Powell weave together cutting edge leadership research with practical advice and inspiring stories to create a useful and credible roadmap to the top.

— Marshall Goldsmith, #1 Leadership Thinker, author of many books including NYT bestseller, Triggers

With a "Moneyball" approach to leadership, "THE CEO NEXT DOOR" uncovers 4 well researched CEO behaviors and shows the path to get to the top and stay there. A must read for aspiring leaders, CEOs, board members, and anyone responsible for grooming future leaders.

— Jim Donald, former CEO Starbucks and Extended Stay Hotels

Botelho and Powell challenge conventional wisdom to deliver the most useful and credible book on career success I’ve seen in years! The CEO Next Door offers a rare view behind the scenes on how leaders get picked for coveted roles and how they really succeed and fail. It offers perspectives that are refreshingly candid and deeply researched. Whether you aspire to CEO role or are just starting out your career, The CEO Next Door will raise your odds of success and protect you from painful stumbles I’ve seen many leaders suffer from.

— Jacqueline Reses, Capital Lead and People Lead, Square, Inc.

CEOs come from different backgrounds in terms of economic status, education, family, gender, race, color, country of origin and sexual orientation. Majority of them do an adequate job, some of them perform exceptionally well while few are utter failures. Everyone have a unique story of their journey to get to this destination. So what differentiates the top performers, mediocre performers and the laggards? This seminal work by Elena and Kim does an outstanding job of identifying habits and traits of super stars versus average performers. The frequent references to real situations and real people makes the book even more credible. The book ends on an optimistic note that everyone in any leadership position with determination and drive can master the skills. This is a must read for those who aspire to make a difference.

— Raj L Gupta, Chairman Delphi Automotive PLC, Chairman Avantor Inc., Board member Arconic Inc, The Vanguard Group and IRI

With colorful stories and interviews, and solid, in-depth data to back up its points, The CEO Next Door is the next must-read book for business leaders of all types! The research makes a compelling argument that the criteria traditionally used to recruit new CEOs is outdated, or just wrong. Botelho and Powell unveil the four qualities the differentiate successful leadership today. They go on to lay out action steps that will advantage leaders in navigating their career and succeeding in a new role. Very useful take-aways!

— Susan Packard, co-founder HGTV, author and media executive

Clear, practical guide on how to run any company, large or small. It’s not about credentials, breeding, looks, experience or resources, but about how one makes decisions, adapts to change, shows empathy and collects information. The CEO Next Door explodes the myths behind what it takes to get to the top and provides what works, regardless of gender or background. Eye-opening and operational.

— Stuart Diamond, serial entrepreneur, author of the New York Times bestseller Getting More: How To Be A More Persuasive Person in Work and Life, and Professor at Wharton Business School

Botelho and Powell have brought big data and analytics to one of the critical bastions of business: the individuals who make it to the corner office. Their insights into business leadership has the promise to be a game-changer for companies, leaders, and everyone who aspires to get ahead.

— Thales Teixeira, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School

Well-researched, practical and eye-opening...Botelho and Powell effectively demystify the path to becoming more successful. Instead of one CEO trying to impart knowledge about how to get ahead, Botelho and Powell change the game by providing you practical wisdom distilled from 2,600 leaders about what really causes people to achieve their potential. The CEO Next Door is like having 2,600 mentors take you under their wing.

— Shawn Achor, NYTimes bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential

This book should be read and studied by all CEOs and Board members. It contains a wealth of practical experience for those leading organizations of all sizes, both businesses and non-profits.

— Patrick W. Gross, co-founder of American Management Systems, Inc.

I handed out The CEO Next Door to my top 150 managers, and have received excellent feedback. We are actively using insights in the book to inspire and develop our team. The four key behaviors are crucial to achieving professional success at any level. You nailed it!

— Bill Amelio, CEO, Avnet

Selected Reviews

You, too, are a CEO. At least, you could be,” declare leadership advisers Botelho and Powell in this encouraging guide to developing the skills of a successful CEO, no matter one’s background. Their book argues that though the word CEO tends to be associated with famous leaders such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, in reality regular people can attain the same abilities and mind-set. Having coached over 300 CEOs, the authors recall being inspired by the “unlikely” ones—unprepossessing, laconic, perhaps without much formal education or experience, like Don Slager, president and CEO at Republic Services. Botelho and Powell had to ask themselves if these people just got lucky or if everyone else is wrong about the characteristics that make a great CEO. Working from a data set of 17,000 leadership assessments to build the “CEO Genome Project,” they identify four qualities as key: confident decision-making, getting others on board with one’s plans, a reputation for reliability, and adaptability. Giving over plenty of space to reflections, questions, and worksheets, the authors guide readers through developing these characteristics and applying them to different organizations. Botelho and Powell have created a thought-provoking look at successful leadership without the typical bluster.

— Publishers Weekly

Is CEO a career aspiration for you or any colleague? Based on 17,000 leader interviews and substantive work as well-known strategy consultants, Botelho and Kim R. Powell map the right roads to take. What’s the secret password to success? Actually, just four behaviors—decisiveness, engaging for impact, relentless reliability, and bold adaptation. And after those are parsed, the authors build the “what you need to do before and after landing that dream c-suite job.” Some examples, all practical and commonsensible: make the complex simple, build your tribe, create a psychological thunder dome. Overall, it’s an enlightening and engaging read, especially since many household business names are spotlighted (Spanx and Bath & Body Works, among others). On the other hand, some of the more helpful summaries obscure the message—simply because they don’t repeat or reinforce the main narrative. But the prose itself, thanks to coauthor Tahl Raz, is easy to peruse and, with lots of callouts, quick to grasp.

— Booklist (starred review)

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About the Authors

ELENA L. BOTELHO grew up in Azerbaijan and Russia in a family of mathematicians and earned her MBA from Wharton. She has advised more than 200 CEOs and boards over nearly two decades, first as a strategy consultant at McKinsey and currently as a partner at ghSMART.

KIM R. POWELL grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and earned a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. For nearly twenty years, Kim has applied her passion for helping people to her role as a trusted advisor to CEOs and high-potential leaders; first as the Boston Consultant Group, then at ghSMART, and now at LeaderScale Advisors.

TAHL RAZ is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. Find him at tahlraz.com.