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The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs

Scores of interviews reveal how the world’s top CEOs think and act.

Senior partners Carolyn Dewar, Scott Keller, and Vikram Malhotra are authors of CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest. The book is based on 67 frank, in-depth interviews they conducted with the CEOs of the world’s most successful companies, including Mary Barra of General Motors, Ken Chenault of American Express, and Satya Nadella of Microsoft.

During a McKinsey Live webinar, Dewar and Malhotra shared the top learnings and strategies they uncovered during their conversations.

CEOs have six primary responsibilities—setting the organization’s direction, aligning the organization, mobilizing the business through its leaders, engaging the board, connecting with stakeholders, and managing personal effectiveness. Excellent CEOs lead on all six at once and act as integrator across it all.

The actions of the top-performing CEOs stem from a core group of mindsets relating to each responsibility:

  • Set a bold direction for the company by reframing the game, redefining success, and making big moves.
  • When aligning the organization, treat the “soft stuff”—culture, talent, and organization design—like you would the “hard stuff,” as elements that can be measured and managed.
  • Solve for team psychology by hiring individuals who will constitute a great team.
  • Engage the board by building a foundation of trust with your directors and investing in their knowledge and capabilities.
  • When setting the organization’s direction, start with “why.” Why does the company exist? What is its purpose in the world?
  • Manage your own effectiveness, spending time and energy on what only a CEO can do.

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Visit our CEO Excellence website to learn more on this topic.