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The Corner Office: How Top CEOs Made It and How You Can Too by [Adam Bryant]

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The Corner Office: How Top CEOs Made It and How You Can Too Kindle Edition

4.4 4.4 out of 5 stars 128 ratings

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"Compelling advice for the aspiring executive.... The conversational format makes these valuable lessons easy to comprehend and digest, and readers are left with a new understanding of leadership--why it's important, how these experts have worked to attain it, and how they can do the same."--"Publishers Weekly""Adam Bryant's "The""Corner Office" is a great service - practical, well-written, chock full of insight and wisdom. Reading this book is like joining a dinner table with some of the best leaders in America, listening in as a master conversationalist leads a spirited discussion you cannot forget. A wonderful creation!"--Jim Collins, author of "Good to Great" and co-author of "Built to Last"""The Corner Office" is a modern management masterpiece. Adam Bryant distills and weaves together hundreds of gems from some of the most successful and intriguing executives on the planet. The result is one of the most delightful, readable, and useful business books I have read in years --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


For investors and business journalists, stock-price fluctuations and quarterly results offer a steady stream of report cards for evaluating a CEO's work. And then, every spring, when proxy season rolls around and companies disclose the compensation packages for top executives, another round of report cards begins. This transparency keeps people honest and creates a relatively level playing field (except, of course, when the numbers lie). From these data, a story line emerges around the CEOs as strategists, and we focus on their successes, their failures, their challenges. Have they sized up the industry landscape correctly and developed a plan to beat their competitors? Are they executing this plan in a disciplined fashion?

For this book, I was interested in pursuing a different story line about CEOs—their own personal stories, free of numbers, theories, jargon, charts, and with minimal discussions of their companies or industries. I wanted to hear what they had learned from their ups and downs, their stories about how they learned to lead, the mistakes they made along the way, how they fostered supportive corporate cultures, and how they do the same things that every other manager does—interview job candidates, run meetings, promote teamwork, manage their time, and give and get feedback.

While setting overall business strategy is certainly an important part of a CEO's job, leadership shapes every part of their day. Once they have a plan, the challenge becomes making sure they have the right people on the team, and getting the most out of them and the broader organization. CEOs may not study leadership in books or develop new silver-bullet theories, but they are experts in leadership because they practice it daily. And many of them have spent the better part of a decade or more honing their leadership styles, through trial and error, studying what works and what doesn't, and then mentoring others.

CEOs have learned firsthand what it takes to succeed and rise to the top of an organization. From the corner office, they can watch others attempt a similar climb, and notice the qualities that set people apart. As they evaluate talent, they learn to divine why one person is more likely to succeed than another. When they bring in talent from the outside, they watch as some new hires blend in better than others. Who succeeds? Who fails? Why? It's a feedback loop that expands with every additional person they manage, creating a kind of laboratory for studying the qualities that enable people to succeed. CEOs study team dynamics, too. If one division or group consistently outperforms another, why is that? What leadership skills does that division or group leader possess? Finally, there is feedback from the marketplace. In business, there are constant judgments and scores. From quarter to quarter, CEOs can determine whether their strategies and leadership styles are working, and whether they need to be adjusted.

CEOs face criticism from many corners, and it is often deserved. But there is no arguing that they have achieved a great deal, through a combination of smarts, hard work, attitude, and commitment. They have much to offer beyond a return on a shareholder's investment.

I have spent much of my two decades in business journalism interviewing CEOs and asking variations of the question "What's the strategy for your company?" But I found myself growing more interested in asking them questions like "How do you do what you do?" "How did you learn to do what you do?" and "What lessons have you learned that you can share with others?"

I developed an appreciation for what effective leadership can mean for a company—and the skills a CEO brings to the table—when I covered the airline industry in the mid-1990s as a reporter for the New York Times. It was a particularly turbulent time in the business, and some of the executives running the carriers were larger-than-life characters. The airline industry, I realized, was like the National Football League. There are team colors and logos—and people have strong passions about which teams they love and hate. Each team has roughly the same equipment, and, as in football, the playing field is reasonably level. One airline can instantly copy an effective strategy from a competitor, whether it's a fare sale or a new twist to the frequent-flyer program. Like defensive and offensive players in football, the employees of each airline are organized into their own specialized units—pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, baggage handlers, gate agents, white-collar workers. I found that what really made the difference from one airline to another was leadership. The culture and tone started at the top, and each company reflected the personalities of its CEO, whether it was Robert L. Crandall at American, Herb Kelleher at Southwest, Stephen M. Wolf at United, or Gordon M. Bethune at Continental. The leader who understood how to get his employees to work together as a team had an advantage.

Gordon Bethune in particular faced a difficult challenge in 1994 when he took over Continental, which had made trips through bankruptcy court and had become a punch line for airline jokes on late-night television.

He figured out a simple plan about what mattered to customers, and promised to share rewards with the entire workforce if they hit certain performance measures better than their competitors. He believed that the additional revenue from pulling away premium customers from Continental's competitors and the reduced costs from a better on-time record would more than justify the cost of paying out some of the benefits to workers.

"What you measure is what gets accomplished," Bethune told me during one of several conversations we had in the mid-1990s. "Most businesses fail because they want the right things but measure the wrong things, and they get the wrong results."

Bethune was fast on his feet with expressions that crystallized a problem or question. He didn't apologize, for example, for bringing in high-priced talent from the outside to join his management team. "Now you can hire a brain surgeon, or you can hire a proctologist at half-price who wants to learn," he said. He invested in better service and employee morale instead of single-mindedly cutting costs. "You can make a pizza so cheap, nobody will buy it," he was fond of saying.

He understood that basic ideas were reliable tools, and his turnaround success at Continental brought credibility to his keep-it-simple approach. No jargon, no theories. Just memorable insights and stories from a CEO that had the ring of truth.

"If you say three things in a row that make sense, people will vote for you," he said.

And one good story about leadership and management from an executive who has worked hard to learn it is equal to ten theories about what should be or could be done in a certain situation.

I discovered over the course of in-depth interviews with more than seventy CEOs and other high-ranking executives that they all have remarkable stories to tell, filled with insights and lessons for others. I've studied the transcripts for patterns and connections, and organized them into the chapters that make up the three parts of this book: "Succeeding," "Managing," and "Leading."

My goal is not only to offer a new story line about CEOs as managers but also to provide some back-to-basics help for managers at all levels of business, particularly since so many of the grand notions about transformative business practices have failed to live up to their billing amid the rubble of the busted economy. Employees have higher expectations of their employers now, too, and the companies that can engage them deeply will win the battle for talent.

To be sure, not all CEOs are successes, and a falling stock price can be a sign of an executive out of his depth rather than a lesson in adversity that will make the CEO, and his company, stronger in the long run.

But after interviewing dozens of executives, I was reminded of the first line of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Many of the CEOs I interviewed resembled one another in their approach. They listen, learn, assess what's working, what's not and why, and then make adjustments. They are quick studies, and they also tend to be good teachers, because they understand the process of learning and can explain what they've learned to others. They seem eager to discuss their hard-earned insights rather than hold on to them as if they were proprietary software.

They shared many of the same notions about leadership and management. They put a premium on direct and frank communication, and flattening the organization. They try to use questions more than statements, so that their employees take ownership of their roles rather than simply take orders from the CEO. They provide a sharp contrast to command-and-control leadership styles of the past, when CEOs isolated themselves from employees—literally, in some cases, with a private elevator down to a reserved parking space, and in more subtle ways. Now they want to mix it up. "I love that people push back on me, and it gets to better ideas," said Sheila Lirio Marcelo, CEO of "I'm really focused on pushing people to gain the confidence to logically debate with a CEO."

Many successful CEOs reward honesty and input, and show their interest in learning what others think, by holding town-hall meetings, seeking the advice of people at all levels of the company, and asking employees what they would do if they were in charge. "The best ideas or important ideas or new ideas can come from anywhere in an organization," said Tim Brown, the CEO of the design consulting firm IDEO, recalling how a boss valued his opinions when Brown was in his early twenties. "So you'd better do a good job of spotting and promoting them when they come, and not let people's positions dictate how influential their ideas are."

These CEOs also try to create a ...

--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B004V3IBLC
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperPress (4 April 2011)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 642 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 270 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 4.4 out of 5 stars 128 ratings

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Adam Bryant is senior managing director and a partner at the ExCo Group, a leadership development and executive mentoring firm. He has interviewed more than 1,000 CEOs and other senior leaders for his LinkedIn series and for the New York Times “Corner Office” column he created. He has written three previous leadership books, including, “The CEO Test: Master the Challenges that Make or Break All Leaders,” published by Harvard Business Review Press in 2021. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and leadership offsites, and is the senior adviser to the Reuben Mark Initiative for Organizational Character and Leadership at Columbia University.

Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5
128 global ratings

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5.0 out of 5 stars Purchased as a gift
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very good
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent leadership book; Low quality book supplier
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent leadership book; Low quality book supplier
Reviewed in Canada 🇨🇦 on 19 January 2021
The book given is a defective version. It was cut in the wrong spot in manufacturing. Pretty shady of the vendor to ship this than toss it - trying to not lose their dollar on low quality manufacturing. The content is not cut out so I kept the book rather than give my time (time is a resource I can never get back) to coordinating shipping it back to the vendor for refund. This vendor has burnt its bridge with me shipping a shoddy book. I would suggest purchasing this book from another vendor.

The book itself is fantastic. If you want to learn about leadership and how to live and work as a leader, this book will meet that with excellent perspectives and guidance from real leaders who work in high stakes, high responsibility, and/or large organizations. You can trust the thoughts, guidance, and perspectives given regarding organizational leadership because they are coming from CEOs, people who have proven to the masses they are authentic leaders to earn their positions.

Key tips: If you are eager to climb the corporate ladder, you should read this book to learn that the ladder is not about fame or power but about leadership, which has in its core an authentic care for the organization and those who work in it. If you think you will showcase your leadership skills and get a promotion up the ladder by way of showing off and promoting yourself with taking as much credit and glory as you can for what you do, you should read this book to learn you have it all wrong, to examine yourself with tough questions on motives and whether you want up the ladder because you love leadership (outward focus - help the business and others thrive) or because you want glorification (inward focus - get more money, power, and praise), and learn how to reorient your approach to become the best leader you can be so that going up the ladder will naturally follow.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insights on the keys to effective leadership
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